It used to frustrate me when I would hear people begin a prayer with “Father we thank you . . .” then later in the same prayer say, “and we thank you for dying on the cross.” There was never a transition to let us know that he was now addressing the Son. We were supposed, I guess, to just figure that out for ourselves. If not, he was guilty of heresy. I say “used to” not because it wouldn’t still frustrate me today but I have not heard that in a long time.
The question of our post today is addressed by Daniel Block in his new book For the Glory of God. He says, “In true worship, the persons of the Trinity may not be interchanged without changing the significance of their work.” (50) I have abridged his discussion below.
“Remarkably, the doxologies never ascribe praise, honor, glory, dominion, or power to the Holy Spirit. This reserve is consistent with the portrayal of the Spirit generally in the New Testament. No one addresses the Holy Spirit in prayer, or bows down to the Holy Spirit, or serves him in a liturgical gesture. Put simply, in the Bible the Spirit is never the object of worship.” (50)
“However, the urge to treat the Holy Spirit as an object of worship is extrabiblical; it derives not from Scripture but from philosophical and theological deduction. It assumes that since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally divine, they are equally worthy of worship. But does recognizing the equality of the three persons of the Trinity demand equal worship of each? On one extreme, we could argue that addressing the Holy Spirit in worship has no more biblical warrant than addressing prayers to Mary, saints, or angels. However, unlike these persons, the Holy Spirit is a part of the divine Trinity. . . . While the New Testament is emphatic in characterizing true worship as ‘in Spirit’ (John 4:24), ‘in/by the Spirit,’ and ‘through the Spirit’ (Acts 4:25), it knows nothing of the worship of the Spirit. Should Christians worship be Trinitarian or binitarian—addressing only the Father and the Son? If we agree that it should be Trinitarian, how would this look in practice? The biblical pattern suggests that this does not call for the three persons of the Triune God to receive equal and identical attention in worship. The pattern established by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) appropriately addresses praise and prayer to the Father, though other texts demonstrate that these may also be directed to the Son. When we read Scripture, the focus will be on God the Father or Jesus Christ the Son. However, it seems that the Holy Spirit is most honored when we accept his conviction of sin, his transforming and sanctifying work within us, and his guidance in life and ministry, and when in response to his leading we prostrate ourselves before Jesus. The Spirit is also honored when we give thanks to the Father and the Son for his presence and work within us, referring to him in the third person rather than addressing him directly. . . But Trinitarian worship need not be balanced, if by balanced we mean giving the three persons of the Godhead equal time and space.” (52-53)