In my chapter, "The Worship Leader and the Trinity," in Doxology and Theology, I try to give feet to how the people of God encounter Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in worship. Sometimes, as church leaders we think too narrowly about the ways in which people can learn of and actually know God more deeply. We can think that our only recourse for people understanding and engaging God as Trinity is didactically, in the wooden sense of imparting knowledge and ideas through teaching and hearing. "Here, let me teach you that God is Triune, and let me unpack what that means"...kind of like a textbook, a chapter in a systematic theology, or a catechism. Classroom-style teaching like this is wonderful, but it is not the only way that people learn of and experience God as Triune.
I began to wrestle with all of this several years ago, and it led me to several questions, including:
- What would it look like for the people of God to confess our sins in a Trinitarian shape?
- Are there qualities of the Three Persons worth highlighting in the moment of confession?
- What would three-ness-in-oneness look like in our confession?
My friend, Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia, and I began answering those questions in the form of a song. It became a confession that pulled in some historic words that the church has used in moments like these, as well. It's called, "Father, Only in Your Power." We sing it all the time at Coral Ridge, and it's always powerful. Listen here, and allow me to explore the text.
Confessing to God the Father
1. Father, only in Your power
Can we ascend to You.
Help us, Father, we are helpless
To pay our righteous due.
Among other things, God the Father is Law-maker, Law-articulator, source of Justice, and (along with Christ) Judge. He sets the standard and shows us the bar. As Father, he sets the pace for His household of kids (us). It makes sense, then, to highlight the helplessness which is immediately exposed when we encounter God the Father.
Confessing to God the Son
2. Jesus, only in Your weakness
can we your kingdom claim
Help us, Jesus, we are reckless
in self-destruction’s chains
Jesus, as Son, is our picture of Divine humility. He demonstrates God's love and power as self-sacrifice and submission. In His ministry on earth, Christ turned our concepts of power upside-down (well, really, rightside-up), exposing that we go about life all the wrong way. He gave us a vision of THE Kingdom that looks completely different than all the kingdoms we erect and admire, both in our individual hearts and in our corporate institutions. Our recklessness in seeking our own kingdom's gain is ultimately self-destructive, and it is the antithesis of the "abundant life" of the Son's Kingdom. We are exposed, again.
Confessing to God the Spirit
3. Spirit, only in Your presence
can we true union find.
Help us, Spirit, we are restless
Our soul’s divisions bind.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of peace and unity. He joins and unites the affections of the Father and Son (think about the fact that when Jesus prayed His most intimate prayer to the Father in John 17, he did so in the Spirit; or think about how at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the Spirit descended when the Father declared His pleasure in the Son). He joins us in union with God the Son that we might have fellowship with the Father. He unifies the Church as the Spirit of Truth. His presence exposes our discord, factiousness, barriers, and walls. He reveals our penchant for division with the other members of Christ's Body, and He casts a spotlight on all our internal division and self-conflict. We are internally and externally restless. We confess these things and more to the Spirit who is actively working to pursue the opposite in our lives and in our Church.
The Kyrie and Agnus Dei
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us
Lamb of God,
Slain before the dawn of the world
Have mercy on us
The Church, historically, had one very simple response to the problem of sin...the ancient cry, "Lord, have mercy." It's a cry that acknowledges helplessness, and it is the soil in which sola gratia (the doctrine of grace alone) grows. It is translated from the Latin, Kyrie, eleison.
Then, sung three times, the historic Agnus Dei (Latin for "Lamb of God"), which builds off Revelation 5 & 13, intensifies the plea of the Kyrie.
The Unifying Solution: The Blood of Christ
4. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Our ancient curse we own
Broken in the blood of Adam
The blood of Christ now show
As the song finishes, we "own our curse" by acknowledging we are culpable as blood-heirs of the first Adam, yet seeing hope in the blood of the Second, Greater Adam. As a true confession, it does not offer the words of God's gracious pardon to us (many modern songs of confession go there), but anticipates and demands them. This song needs to be followed up with God's gracious Word. We often sing "Nothing But the Blood" after a song like this.