Monday, October 31, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 10

This post is the first of a two-part series on Torrance’s view of the relationship between the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and the sacraments of baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
As a Protestant theologian, Torrance acknowledges “two basic sacraments” of the Gospel: baptism and the Eucharist. While baptism and the Eucharist are acts of human response to the proclamation of the Gospel, they are “above all divinely provided, dominically appointed ways of response and obedience of a radically vicarious kind.” Just as ancient Israel was not allowed to come before God with offerings and sacrifices of their own choosing, but rather was commanded to approach him in the divinely provided cultic liturgy centred around circumcision and Passover, so also in the new covenant appropriate forms of human response are “vicariously provided in Jesus Christ” and are represented by baptism and the Eucharist. The sacraments “replace the rites of circumcision and Passover in accordance with the fundamental change in the covenant relation between God and his people brought about through the Incarnation and Atonement” (Torrance, 1992:89-91). Torrance continues:
As such they are sacraments of the vicarious human response to God effected by Jesus Christ in his representative and substitutionary capacity in our place and on our behalf. They are sacraments of the finished work of Christ to which we can add nothing, sacraments which have as their substance and content none other than Jesus Christ clothed with his Gospel of atoning mediation and reconciliation, and thus sacraments which in their unique way represent the indivisible oneness of Christ’s Word and Act and Person as Mediator between God and man.
For Torrance, the sacraments must be understood as “having to do with the whole historical Jesus Christ from his birth to his resurrection and ascension, for their content, reality and power are constituted ... by the act of God fulfilled in the humanity of Christ.” Thus, “the primary mysterium or sacramentum is Jesus Christ himself” (Torrance, 1976a:82). Baptism and the Eucharist direct us away from ourselves toward Jesus Christ. While they are liturgical responses we are commanded to make, they add nothing to the finished work of Jesus Christ, for they are not sacraments of what we do but of what Christ has done in our place and on our behalf. They are “instruments of the Holy Spirit‘s operation” by which we are “exercised,” as John Knox put it, in our union with Christ. In baptism we are ingrafted into Christ and in the Eucharist we are continually nourished through our union with Christ. “Both sacraments tell us that we live not out of ourselves, but that we find our life and righteousness outside of ourselves, in Christ alone, through union and communion with him.” “As such,” argues Torrance, “they are liturgical acts of prayer in the form of divinely provided ordinances of response, sealing to us within the new covenant our sharing in the vicarious obedience of Christ” (Torrance, 1992:90; 1996b:152).
Baptism
In order to explicate his understanding of the relationship between baptism and the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, Torrance (1976a:83, 84; 1988a:292) carefully distinguishes between the Greek words, baptisma and baptismos. In speaking of Christian baptism, notes Torrance, the New Testament uses the unusual word baptisma, not the more common baptismos. While the latter is regularly used in Greek to refer to a “repeatable” rite of ceremonial cleansing, the former refers not to the rite itself but to the “reality signified” by the rite, that is, the unique saving event in Christ on which the rite rest. This appears to be the reason, notes Torrance, that New Testament writers do not describe the rite of baptism, for they are concerned with the objective reality behind the ritual more than the rite itself. In this respect, baptisma is like kerygma, which refers not to the “proclamation” of the Gospel as such, but to the “reality” proclaimed, for it is not the proclamation itself that saves, but the one who is proclaimed, that is, Jesus Christ. Like kerygma, the word baptisma in the New Testament directs us beyond the rite of baptism to its “objective ground and reality, Christ clothed with the saving truth of his vicarious life, death and resurrection.” In regard to both kerygma and baptisma, the primary reference of both words is the mystery of Christ, “God manifest in the flesh,” while the secondary reference is to the Church’s activity in preaching and baptising. Thus, baptisma does not refer merely to the baptising of an individual, but rather to “the baptism with which Jesus Christ himself was baptised for our sakes in the whole course of his redemptive life from his birth to his resurrection, the one baptism which he continues by his Spirit to apply to us in our baptism into him, thereby making himself both its material content and its active agent.” Torrance (1976a:84) continues:
All this helps to make it clear that while baptism is both the act of Christ and the act of the Church in his Name, it is to be understood finally not in terms of what the Church does but in terms of what God in Christ has done, does do and will do for us in his Spirit. Its meaning does not lie in the rite itself and its performance, nor in the attitude of the baptised and his obedience of faitheven the secondary reference of baptism, by its nature as a passive act, in which we receive baptism and do not administer it to ourselves, directs us to find its meaning in the living Christ who cannot be separated from his finished work and who makes himself present to us in the power of his own Reality.
Comment: The “rite” or “ritual” of baptism has no salvific content. As Torrance rightly argues, it is not the rite that saves us; rather, we are saved by the objective Reality that underlies the rite and to which the rite points: Jesus Christ. Torrance’s understanding of baptism precludes any notion of “baptismal regeneration.” Also, when the significance of baptism is found in the objective Reality underlying the rite, rather than in the rite itself, questions as to the manner of baptism (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) or the age of the baptisand (infant, believing adolescent) become far less important and devisive.
Baptism is “the sacrament of our incorporation into Christ on the ground of his finished work” (Torrance, 1992:90); thus, it is not a sacrament of what the Church does but of what “God has done for us in Jesus Christ, in whom he has bound himself to us and bound us to himself, before ever we could respond to him” (Torrance, 1976a:103). As Torrance (1992:90, 91) argues, we are baptised “out of ourselves” and into Christ, who has taken our place. Baptism expresses the “character of faith in which our faith is implicated in the faith and faithfulness of Christ.” He continues:
Thus Baptism tells us that in our believing we do not rely upon our own faith but upon the vicarious faith of Christ which in sheer grace anticipates, generates, sustains and embraces the faith granted to those who are baptised. [As St. Paul teaches] it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and that is not our own doing for it is God’s gift. Quite consistently we do not baptise ourselves but are baptised, for Baptism proclaims to us that we are saved by the unconditional grace of Christ alone ... who has cleansed us and set the seal (sphragis) of his ownership upon us. As such Baptism constitutes the divinely provided witness (martyria) that we are no longer our own but belong to Jesus Christ our Redeemer and Lord. It is in that belonging that faith takes its source and out of it that it continues to grow.
As Torrance (1976a:86, 87) argues, the whole course of Jesus’ obedient life, from his birth of the Virgin Mary though his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension was a “baptism,” not for his sake but for our sakes, for he received the “baptism” meant for sinners. Torrance continues:
In our human nature he received the divine judgement upon sin; in our human nature he made atonement, and in our human nature he rose again from the dead. When he was born, died and rose again, it was our human nature which was born, died, and rose again in him. For Jesus ... became one with us, taking upon himself our unrighteousness, that his righteousness might become ours.
Hence, the baptism of individual persons is to be understood as their “initiation” into the one vicarious baptisma of Jesus Christ, whereby we are given to share in his righteousness and are sanctified in him as members of the one Body of Christ (Torrance, 1976a:87). Torrance continues:
Through his birth they have a new birth and are made members of the new humanity. Through his obedient life and death as the incarnate Son their sins are forgiven and they are clothed with a new righteousness. Through his resurrection and triumph over the powers of darkness they are freed from the dominion of evil. Through his ascension to the Father the Kingdom of Heaven is opened for them, and they wait for his coming again to fulfil in them the new creation. Through sharing in his Spirit they are made members of his Body and are initiated into the communion of the Holy Trinity.
As an ordinance, then, baptism sets forth not what the Church or the individual believer does but what God has already done in Christ and continues to do through his Spirit. Thus, it is appropriate that we “are baptised.” Our part is only to receive passively what Christ has done for us, for we can add nothing to his finished work. By his Spirit, Christ acts upon us in terms of his “atoning and sanctifying incorporation of himself into our humanity” in such a way that it effects our “ingrafting” into Christ and our “adoption” into the family of God. Our understanding of the ordinance of baptism, therefore, cannot be separated from what Christ has done in his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. “It is precisely that union or inseparable relation which is the very meaning of the sacrament in which we are baptised into Christ’s baptism, and why the sacrament is spoken of [in the New Testament], not as baptismos, but as baptisma.” The rite of baptism, therefore, does not constitute a “new” or “separate” baptism, but a “participation in the one all-inclusive baptism common to Christ and his Church, wrought out vicariously in Christ alone but into which he has assimilated the Church through the baptism of the one Spirit, and which he applies to each of us through the same Spirit. Hence, it is baptisma in the Name of the Triune God” (Torrance, 1976a:87, 88).
For Torrance (1988a:294), this is surely how St. Paul’s teaching on baptism (cf. Rom 6) is to be understood, wherein “the implied rite was, so to speak, stereoscopically related to the reality discerned through it.” Noting that Paul was accustomed to speaking of our dying and rising in Christ in the aorist tense (e.g., Eph 2:1-6), Torrance argues that it was not the “rite” of baptism to which Paul referred, but to what had “once and for all” taken place in Jesus Christ on our behalf, and in which we are implicated. Torrance continues:
[A]t the Jordan it was our humanity which was baptised in him, so that it was our humanity that was crucified and resurrected in him. When he died for us and was buried, we died and were buried with him, and when he rose again from the grave, we were raised up with himthat is the truth sealed upon us in “one baptism.”
In emphasising the objective, once-for-all aspect of baptism (baptisma), that is, the unrepeatable reality signified by the rite, Torrance follows Athanasius. Torrance (1988a:292) writes:
For Athanasius, the decisive point ... was that in his baptism in the Jordan the incarnate Son of God received the Spirit upon the humanity he had taken from us, not for his own sake, but for our sake. That is to say, it was our humanity that was baptised, anointed, sanctified, and sealed in him. Thus when he was baptised for us we were baptised in him. Our baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, therefore, is to be understood as a partaking through the Spirit in the one unrepeatable baptism of Christ which he underwent, not just in the Jordan river, but throughout his life and in his death resurrection [sic], on our behalf.
Torrance (1988a:293, 294) follows Athanasius in arguing that Jesus’ vicarious baptism on our behalf is the “objective truth” to which the “one baptism” of the creed refers (cf. Eph. 4:4-6). Jesus Christ underwent “one baptism” vicariously as Redeemer. By uniting us to himself by the Holy Spirit, he makes us participate “receptively” in his one baptism as those whom he has redeemed. Torrance continues:
The central truth of baptism, therefore, is lodged in Jesus Christ himself and all that he has done for us within the humanity he took from us and made his own, sharing to the full what we are so that we may share to the full what he is. Baptism is the sacrament of that reconciling and atoning exchange in the incarnate Saviour.
Note here Torrance’s connection between the sacrament of baptism and the “wonderful exchange” embodied in the incarnate constitution of Jesus Christ.
When we receive baptism within the Church, we are granted by the grace of God participation in the “one all-inclusive incarnational baptisma of Jesus Christ” and are made to become members of his Body and children of our heavenly Father. This takes effect through the Spirit bestowed upon us according to the promise of Jesus Christ, yet, its “taking effect” is not a different and subsequent event (Torrance, 1976a:89). Torrance explains:
Our adoption, sanctification and redemption have already taken place in Christ, and are fully enclosed in his birth, holy life, death and resurrection undertaken for our sakes, and proceed from them more by way of realisation or actualisation in us of what has already happened to us in him than as new effect resulting from them: we have been adopted through his incarnational assumption of us into himself, sanctified through the obedient self-offering of Christ in his life and death, and we have been born again in his birth of the Spirit and in his resurrection from the dead.
Comment: If I understand Torrance correctly, then our own baptism adds nothing to what Christ has already done for all humanity. Everyone, whether they believe or not, is included in the one baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, where, as the new Adam, he was baptised in place of and on behalf of all. Our own baptism is a “partaking” of that one unrepeatable baptism in the Jordan River, not in the sense that we were not already included in Jesus but in the sense of a “realisation” of the relationship that has always been ours.
Commenting on this passage, Hunsinger (2001:144, 145) observes that “the perfect tense determines the present tense.” In the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, the “definitive” sanctification of our humanity has taken place. In the incarnate assumption of fallen Adamic flesh, as lived out through the whole course of his obedience, “our human nature has been judged, purified, and renewed.” Therefore, as Torrance notes above, salvation comes to us more by the “realisation” or “actualisation” in us of what has already been accomplished in Christ than by a “new effect” in us as a consequence of our own salvific experience. Here, the implications of Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ are clearly articulated: 1) humanity is “adopted” into the family of God through the incarnational assumption of Adamic flesh; 2) we are “sanctified” by the whole course of Christ’s obedient life, and 3) we are born again, both in Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and in his new birth in the resurrection from the dead. Hunsinger (2001:144) sums this up simply: “Vicarious humanity means that everything Christ has done and suffered in his humanity was done and suffered in our place and for our benefit.”As Torrance (1976a:89) argues, “As Jesus Christ is, so are we in this world, for what happened to Him as Head of the Body happens to us also who are members of the Body.” This is why baptism (baptisma) must be understood in terms of its “dimension of depth,” as it relates to the objective reality that underlies it, that is, to the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, “for it belongs to the peculiar nature of baptism that in it we partake of a redemption that has already been accomplished for us in Christ.” As Torrance argues, in baptism, the “end” is already given to us in the “beginning.” In the sacrament of baptism, we look away from ourselves, seeing beyond the Church’s activity in the administration of the rite, toward the crucified and risen Christ, who, in his vicarious humanity assumed for us, is the “content, reality and power” of baptism.
Thus, as Torrance (1988a:294) notes, when we think of baptism (baptisma) objectively, that is, in relation to the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, we are directed away from ourselves to what took place “in Christ in God.” But if we think of baptism (baptismos) subjectively, then we can only give it meaning in terms of our own subjective experience, or in terms of its “efficacy” as a rite. Torrance (1976a:88-99) details how, partly in consequence of the Augustinian dualism between the intelligible and the sensible worlds, baptisma was gradually detached from its objective reality in Jesus Christ and reduced to baptismos, wherein the rite itself ascended in importance as a means of grace to “bridge” the gap between the divine and the material. Among the problems that arose from this view was the issue of rebaptism for those who had committed serious sins after their initial baptism.
Finally, Torrance (1988a:297- 299) notes that, in baptism, “we partake of the whole substance of the Gospel.” In the Nicene Creed, baptism is closely connected to “the remission of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” for these are “the saving benefits that flow from union with Christ through one baptism and one Spirit, and are enjoyed in one Body.” As Torrance argues, to be united to Christ through baptism “necessarily” carries with it a sharing with him in the resurrection and the life of the world to come. In the incarnation, Jesus Christ takes upon himself our physical existence enslaved to sin and makes our corruption, death, and judgement his own, so that by offering himself as substitute for us, he might destroy the power of corruption and death to which we are enslaved. Through the bodily resurrection of the human nature he assumed in the incarnation, “Christ has set us upon an altogether different basis in relation to God in which there is no longer any place for corruption and death.” The “central focus” of Christian belief, therefore, is upon Jesus Christ, who, in his resurrection from the dead, has conquered death and brought with him immortality, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the dead “into which we are once for all baptised by the Holy Spirit.”
In this regard, notes Torrance (1976a:94; cf. Hunsinger, 2001:145), Irenaeus described baptism as the “sacrament of the incarnational reversal of the estate we have lost in Adam and of our participation in the new humanity of Jesus Christ.” Just as Adam’s disobedience was reversed by Christ’s obedience, so also our lost, fallen condition is reversed through our participation in Christ’s new humanity, first objectively (extra nos), then subjectively (in nobis). The reality of baptism, therefore, is to be found in the objective reality of what Christ has already done for us in the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father. This reality is “savingly operative” in us through union and communion with Christ effected by the Holy Spirit.
Thus, the central focus of our faith is far from being a promise for the future only; rather, it is an “evangelical declaration” of what has already taken place in Christ and continues in him as a “permanent triumphant reality” throughout the course of time until its consummation in his return, when he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. In the ongoing life of the Church, notes Torrance, we live “in the midst of the advent-presence of Christ, already partake of the great regeneration (palliggenesia) of the future, and share in its blessings with one another.” All that is said in the creedal assertion of “one baptism for the remission of sins” is “proleptically conditioned” by the future, so that we might look beyond our present participation in the death of Christ through his vicarious humanity to our own participation in the resurrection from the dead at the return of our Lord and Saviour (Torrance, 1988a:299, 300).
References
Hunsinger, G. 2001. The Dimension of Depth: Thomas F. Torrance on the Sacraments. In E. Colyer, ed. The Promise of Trinitarian Theology: Theologians in Dialogue with T. F. Torrance. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Ch. 6.
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. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

God for Us! Third Anniversary

Hey Everyone,

This week marks the third anniversary of God for Us! This blog has given me the opportunity to play a small part in putting the good news back into the Good News! Yes, folks, the news is good! Really good!! In Christ, God has reconciled all things to himself. That includes you, me, your cantankerous uncle, your dope-smoking cousin, and the Tibetan holy man, serene in his temple, obscured by thick clouds of oh so fragrant incense (see 2Cor5:19). Nothing remains to be done for our salvation. There is nothing we must add by our own efforts to what Christ has already done for all humanity. Our seat at the great feast is assured; each one of us has a place card at the Father's Table with our names on it, a place that can never be taken away. All the Father asks of us is to put on our wedding garments and join the party.

For those of you who began reading this blog during the series on T.F. Torrance (which is almost complete), I encourage you to return to the first posts back in October, 2008. I began this blog by writing on the doctrine of the Trinity, and why it matters. I attempted to show through a series of posts how the doctrine of the Trinity was relegated over time to the status of a minor appendix to a more thoroughly devloped doctrine of the One God (the "omnigod"), so that the "Christian" doctrine of God was developed apart from Jesus Christ! I hope each of you will take a look at these posts.

I also encourage you to read the "articles" I have written, mostly for the Plain Truth magazine, listed in the right column of this blog page.

Also, if you are so inclined, you might help me out by ordering a copy of my book, Ashes into Gold, which you can obtain by clicking on the book picture on the right. I personally handle the orders from this blog and the money goes into my pocket, not to a third-party online seller.

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, especially to those who have sent encouraging comments.

Martin

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 9

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).
References
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.

T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit

T.F. Torrance: Union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit