The term means mutual indwelling or, better, mutual interpenetration and refers to the understanding of both the Trinity and Christology. In the divine perichoresis, each person has “being in each other without coalescence” (John of Damascus ca. 650). The roots of this doctrine are long and deep. Recent Evangelicals that have worked at clearly defining the model include such notables as Millard Erickson, Royce Gordon Gruenler, Gilbert Bilezikian and Miraslav Volf. It is seen most clearly in the passages in John where Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father:
“But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38);
“Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:9-11);
“...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21)
In no other place in the teachings of Jesus are we provided with such a clear window into the divine relationships. The picture Jesus gives us here is that of an eternal community (of two persons at this stage), totally dwelling in one another, totally interpenetrating each other so much so that when one speaks it can be said that both speak. The Son totally dwells in the Father, and the Father totally dwells in the Son. We do not have a human analogy to divine perichoresis because one human cannot indwell another. The closest we can come to this reality is human empathy.
The dynamic quality of the perichoritic Trinity is symbolically captured in the vision given to the prophet Ezekiel (1:3-28) which pictures a tri-personal being who is full of energy, life, and love. It speaks of mutuality and relationship, of love that is eternal. It has been called the divine dance, the polyphony. It presents the three persons, in perfect harmony, giving without reservation to one another, interdependent, bound together in love, all involved in a celebration of life, love, peace and joy.
Joining the Divine Dance
I have given only a brief introduction to an idea that has captured my heart. I do not have time to develop it further, but I would like to share some implications for worship and worship leaders that I have drawn from my study of the perichoresis. This is not meaningless theological minutia. If it is true, it has tremendous implications for all of life and especially for worship.
1. The perichoresis is already happening when we begin to worship. Worship leaders lead the community of faith into what has always been happening in the divine perichoresis. Worship leaders simply help God’s people join the eternal dance.
2. The perichoresis reminds us that we are not the worship leaders. God is the worship leader. The Son is the one that leads us into worship of the Father. He is the mediator of all worship (see T.F. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace). But within the divine perichoresis any one of the persons might lead us in glorifying the others (John 17:5).
3. The perichoresis makes clear the distinctness and diversity of persons in the Triune God. Each person who abides in the other, remains uniquely what he is. The Father does not become the Son, the Son not the Father etc. Each has a unique role to play in redemption and should be praised for his unique work. To lead the church in worship, the worship leader must join with the persons of the Triune God in praising them according to their unique glory and work.
4. The perichoresis informs the worship leader that worship is always a corporate activity. True worship is never singular. We do not come to Jesus alone. We come to the Father who is in the Son and to the Son who is in the Father. The object of worship is a divine community.
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