Chapter 6: Why Do We Worship Christ?

Christian Affirmations
by Norman Pittenger

Chapter 6: Why Do We Worship Christ?

Why do we worship Christ? This question governs all we have said so far. All we have considered finds its proper meaning and receives true significance from the phrase, "Our Lord Jesus Christ is to be worshiped and glorified."

The best approach to an answer to this question comes from Melancthon: "To know Christ is to know His benefits rather than His natures." We do want to know Christ’s nature -- God and Man. But the approach is right. To know Christ’s benefits means to know what Christ does for us and thus to know who Christ is. To know who Christ is, is to discover why we adore Him.

What does He do for us? Let us answer this not in conventional theological language, for conventional theological language is often meaningless to people. Let us consider three things, in a non-theological way, about the benefits of Christ.

First, Christ has brought and does bring God near to us. He makes God available. Most people in most places at most times have felt God remote. They felt He was far off in Heaven and unconcerned with the details of human life. But through Christ we know that God, the Creator of the world, who governs the affairs of nations, is also close at hand so that we may know Him well. Those who had companied with Jesus Christ in Palestine, those who knew Him, felt God was near in Him and through Him. This experience is not confined to the New Testament, nor to the first century. Whenever men and women have come into a relationship of obedience, service, and love to Jesus Christ, they have found that in Him, God who seems far off is made close at hand.

Secondly, Christ provides for us a center around which and in which our lives may find a new integration. Here is a perennial experience. Those who find life in Him -- those who discover service to Him and worship of Him -- will testify to the fact which Clement of Alexandria expresses so well: "Our sunsets are turned into sunrises." There is a new way of living, a new relationship to God and to our fellow men, a new hope, a new possibility in us. A disoriented, confused, frustrated, troubled, lost person can find a new center of meaning -- a new power for living in the Man of Nazareth. This is written all over the pages of the New Testament, and is as true today as it was then.

By providing us with One whom we may love and serve without reservation, Christ delivers us from self centeredness, that turning-in upon ourselves which is the root-meaning of human sin. A Scottish preacher said that Christ provides for us a Person for whom we can care, and thereby can experience the "expulsive power of a new affection." This means to be taken out of oneself," to be turned away from concern for our little ego, to care for Another whom we may indeed care for without fear of being "let down." He gives us release and makes us free. He opens up incredible resources for human living. The impossible becomes possible. Our lives are made new. Men and women are enabled to live as the sons and daughters of God. By providing the deliverance from self-centeredness, Christ opens up to us possibilities never known to us before.

Through Christ there is a height and depth in life made available to a humdrum man or woman who has never climbed mountains nor descended into the depths. There is the opening up of enormous resources. A St. Francis throws away all he possesses and marries Lady Poverty. He walks the dusty roads of Italy -- "having nothing, yet possessing all things." St. Thomas Aquinas explores with insight and understanding the mysteries of the Divine Being. Sir Wilfred Grenfell goes to Labrador and Dr. Schweitzer goes to Africa. Christ makes us do the things we thought no one ever could do -- sometimes in small yet significant ways. The greatest results come from these tiniest beginnings. He purges us of our self-centeredness by providing a worthy center for our devotion.

When we are confronted with these facts of the benefits of Christ, we are compelled to ask the question, "Who can this be?"

The token of man as a reasoning being is the desire to know the meaning of things -- to understand. Theologians are not pedantic people who go apart and devise schemes to complicate life, for everybody is a theologian. Every person tries to understand, and to state to himself or others, what he finds to be the meaning of life. The kind of theology you hold is determined by that which you take to be of supreme importance. Now Christian theologians find their focus in Christ. They made him their point of departure. They know Jesus Christ and His benefits, and they try to explain the world in terms of Christ, with Him as their clue. They try to relate Him to the world in which they live and to relate Him to the rest of their human experience. It took the Church three hundred years to work its way through to a formal answer to the question, "Who is Christ?" -- but it takes only a moment’s encounter with Christ Himself for a simple believer to find the whole meaning of life.

When St. Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God" he was simply giving a transcript of experience. Confronted by Christ, finding God available through Him, delivered by Him from sin, and discovering the possibility of new life in His strength, men and women cannot but cry, "My Lord and my God!"

Those three hundred years were not wasted time. They were spent in an effort to discover ways of stating faith in Jesus Christ -- ways to guard it from distortion and error. In the year 325, the Church at the Council of Nicea affirmed the deity of Jesus in unmistakable terms. They did not use nouns indiscriminately. Not merely was the deity of Christ affirmed, but also His true humanity. The "heresy of the pious" is monophysitism (i.e., that Jesus was God but never truly man). We ought to be grateful to the misguided liberals who over-emphasized the humanity of Christ. They recalled us all to the warmth of the human life really lived in Palestine. If it be true that through the wounds of Christ’s humanity we come to an understanding of divinity, we are marring the Christian experience if we lose sight of the fact. The answer given by many people who think they are orthodox is "that Christ is God," and they leave it at that. But this is not what the Church has said; neither has Christian experience. Both the Church and experience say, "In Him God and man are at one" -- and each of those terms is as important as the other. We say, then, that because of what Jesus Christ does for men, the Church has been compelled to affirm that deity and humanity meet and are married in Him, in a union indissoluble and fruitful for all who are enabled to know Him.

How shall we understand the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ? Not by minimizing the reality of human life; certainly not by thinking that He had no human mind and soul, that He lacked human emotions, and that His human mind was omniscient and His human strength omnipotent. We shall succeed in making Him an incredible figure if we show Him as a man who does not share the limitations of human nature. Neither shall we rightly understand Christ if we play down the deity and imply that when we call Him divine we mean little more by the word than does the young man who uses this word for the lady of his affections.

Christ was not just a very good man and that only. Some have said that He demonstrates His deity in His power to do mighty works; and they use miracles as a proof of His being God. But His miracles would prove not His deity but His extraordinary power. The mystery of Christ is the union in Him of God and man, of true deity and true humanity.

Look at any instance of human life. Every man is related to God in some fashion. God created us and uses us. We depend on Him. God has His purpose for each of us and we respond to a greater or less degree. God woos us and we respond with a glimmer of love to Him. But here in Christ we have an instance of human life which from the first moment, and at every point, was an agent of God -- a vehicle for God’s expression that is entirely His own. His human life was not lived sporadically or spasmodically with God, but was always and at every moment linked with God. Here we see how One who is truly a man can also be a true instrument and agent of God’s presence -- God’s very self in human experience. If we let our right hand stand for God and the left hand stand for man, and then bring the two together, but part them again and again, this broken and temporary union is a fact of all human life. We are touched by God for a moment, obedient to God for a time, loving and serving God just a little bit. Suppose that the hands are clinched tight, the two as one and remaining as one, God working through man and man ever obedient to God. That is Christ -- He in whom God and man are in union, one with another, now and forever. This tells us why we worship Christ. We can worship God, and God only. We may venerate the saints, but worship belongs to God and to Him alone. Unless we can say that in and through Jesus Christ, God is at one with men through this Man, we shall be guilty of idolatry if we worship Him. But if God and man are one in Him, we can and must worship Him.

Only because of that which Christ does can the Christian affirm:

This man is more than man!

This man is at one with God!

God acts in Him and God comes in Him!

Only because of that can we dare to worship Him.

We do worship Him. When we worship Him we do not feel at all that He comes between God and us, as if a wall were erected between our Creator and our little selves. We feel when we worship Him that we are worshiping God in Him and Him in God, for they are as one. We look at Him and say of Him, as St. Thomas did, "My Lord and my God!"

All this can be summed up in a story from William Hazlett’s "Table Talk." A group of friends were discussing great men they would like to have known. At the end, Charles Lamb said in his stammering voice: "After all these I can think of but one Other. If Shakespeare were to come in we should all of us rise to our feet and wish to take his hand. If the Other should come in we should all of us fall on our knees and seek to kiss the hem of His garment."

Why do we worship Christ? Because we cannot help it.