A Survey of Words
A survey of common Greek words in the Bible which is related to the idea of worship surfaces the following four groups of words:
Prostruneo – Usually to denote an act of homage
Latriaen – Acts of devotion, being devoted to
Leiturgeio/Leiturgeiousai – Concerning priesthood and ministry
Sebomai – Fear and reverence
Homage to a Benefactor. Devotion to the Father God. Priestly and ministerial rites governing the approach to a Diety. Fear of the greater Power. Together these sum up the attitudes of worship. We recognize that we owe all to the God who has created all things; we are devoted to the Father who so loved the world that He gave His Son; we draw near to Him corporately in a meaningful and ordered liturgy which expresses our orientation towards Him; and we fear Him who is able to kill not just the body but the soul as well, Him who speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.
Even before we get to these words, we need to recognize the primitive desire that all man have in worshipping a greater power. Homage, devotion, liturgy and fear are all common to the religious instincts of man everywhere, be it to wood and stone in ancient days or to ideology and archetypes of modern times. To paraphrase Alexander Schemann, man hungers to worship, and as Peter Leithart and James Jordan would put it, we are ‘homo adorans’ – creatures which worship. The challenge we have today is to restore this anthropological insight in a day when man worships all sorts of things but at the same time would deny that he worships anything, and we need both the Bible and sociological insight to bring the point to a secular age, and convince man that there is no other God worthy of the worship of man.
Spirit and Truth
We often talk about the memorable phrase that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman – that those of the new covenant worship ‘in Spirit and Truth’ – so that it is understood as worshipping according to the Bible in an enthusiastic and Holy Spirit filled manner. The reason we do so is often to balance between reason and emotion in worship, fearing that on the one hand we would be dead word reciters or on the other hand burst into an uncontrollable ecstasy of tongues.
But perhaps that is not what Jesus meant. Perhaps he is not a 21st century church goer trying to figure out what is good in the Charismatic Church phenomenon while fearing that we are slipping away from Bible-based liturgy. Perhaps he is more concerned with the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit which very soon He was about to pour out on all flesh after the Pentecost, having ascended to the right-hand of the Father. Perhaps he was more concerned with doing away the Old Covenant and ushering in the New. Perhaps he has another perspective that we moderns have failed to read, a perspective that is centred upon the historical works that God does in bringing about His salvation plan, rather than finding a compromise in the worship wars of the 1990s and the 2000s.
Old and New
My reading (and not a novel one) of the ‘Spirit and Truth’ is really about the in-breaking of the Spirit in the New Covenant, bringing about new revelation to the 1st Century Jewish sect later called Christians, and bringing truth of God’s redemptive plan to all man.
So at the heart of Spirit and Truth worship is the Gospel, which reveals a reversal of what was considered ‘once’, and what was considered ‘forever’, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the OT, the priests are mortal and die. In the NT, Christ is the invincible and immortal priest who lives forever. Priesthoodness is no longer ‘once’ as in the OT, but ‘forever’ in the NT. An opposite movement is seen in the matter of sacrifices; In the OT the sacrifice ritual is repeated over and over again, to be perpetuated forever; but in the NT the sacrifice of Christ is once for all, ending all future sacrifice. Sacrifices are no longer forever as in the OT, but once and final in the NT.
This says a lot about what lasts, and what is once for all, in matters of worship. And it has sociological consequences. If we do not worship God in Christ, who is the once-for-all sacrifice who ends all sacrifice, we end up forever searching for sacrifices, falling into the cult of the tragic hero whose legacy must be upheld by continual death and sacrifice. We are forever bound to a debt that cannot be repaid, and are forever in need of new Messiahs to perpetuate the order we cherish, a never-ending works righteousness that only ends in endless sacrifice and bloodshed. Witness the idols of nationalism, the Cultural Revolution of China, the cult of the capital-driven technologist today, etc – the never-ending demands they have on the human body so that we finally reach their various visions of utopia are real. The price is paid in blood, sweat, tears, the resources of the earth, all laid on the altar of continual sacrifice.
Only in Christ are we free to embrace the abundance of a communion that is not threatened by circumstances, not overcome by the world. We have been forgiven and called into the Kingdom of God in Christ. Non-Christian systems of worship and social organizations require a continual production of temporary heroes to perpetuate the values we hold dear, creating a cycle of continuous purging, refounding, revolution, scapegoats etc. The Christian vision of renewal in worship and social organization is instead anti-sacrificial, but upheld by prayer, repentance, trust in God’s timing, and obedience to be in communion with God through the rites of simple rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The falsely messianic and apocalyptic are peddled by those who do not believe that the sacrifice of Christ is once and final – the Messiah is already on the Throne today, and we await the leaven of the Kingdom to fill the whole loaf of the world.
As such, Christian liturgy needs to remember its continual posture of waiting and receiving, instead of a adopting a posture of mobilizing and organizing. There is indeed a place for mobilizing and organizing in the Church to do the good works God has given to us, but this should not take the place of the liturgy, the time which we devote to our waiting and receiving from the one and only Priest who lasts forever, who gives abundantly to us the once for all sacrifice He made on the cross. It must recognize that the Pentecost has already happened and the Spirit has already been poured out, God’s redemptive plan has already been revealed in Christ. As much as this is all astounding news should continually overcome our own agendas and force us to respond to the God of the gospel, we have to retain the posture of waiting and receiving. Worship must not mainly be a time of drumming up the emotions and rallying the congregation, nor is it merely a reciting and affirming the creeds and long held traditions. It is, at heart, a recognition that the Spirit has been poured out and the Truth has been announced, and we are to wait upon the Lord of the Spirit and Truth so that we may receive from Him His gifts which refreshes His Spirit in us and further imprints the Truth in our lives, so that we may become more and more what we shall be. Only then are we living sacrifices, enacting reasonable worship.
In a round-about way, this does actually address the concerns of the worship wars, which was often about tone and tempo and tune and tenor – the chord played and the word spoken must help us be better waiters and receivers upon the Lord of Spirit and Truth, not performers for men manufacturing revolution and novelty. The New Covenant is new and radical enough, and to try to ‘improve’ upon it is to return to mortal priests and endless bloodshed unto false gods.
Reasonable Acts of Worship – the Return of Form to Worship
Logikos/Logiken in Romans 12:1, which is translated as reasonable worship, is meant to point us to toward being aligned to the mind of God, reasonable in accordance to the doctrines which Paul had staked out in Romans 1-11. For Paul, the Christian existence is living sacrifice not in the sense that we replace the sacrifice of Christ (who had to literally die and rise again; this we cannot do other than through the sense of saying that we do put our sinful flesh to death and live unto the Spirit, having become one with Christ), but rather that we have our whole lives become thoroughly given over to God and pressed into His image.
The Romans 12 vision of worship is a vision of life aligned to the mind of God. So how should this inform the way we order our ‘worship event’ on Sunday mornings? Or perhaps, the question should be posed in a more pragmatic manner – how does the worship event on Sunday help us to live a Romans 12 vision of a life of worship?
If we do not see a link between the two, then perhaps we fail to understand the basic point that we are all homo adorans. Perhaps an example in the opposite direction may help – the contemporary view of the worship event is often an intense mystical encounter with the Divine Other. Adopting this perspective and frame for our worship services does shape our vision of life – we become more prone to grand revelations founded on hyper-emotional experiences, giving primacy to the individual’s feeling and emotion as the ground of truth and being in our analysis of what is true and commendable. When we teach our people that an encounter with God is recognized by emotional intensity and mystical feelings of transcendence, we give them the frame for perceiving what is true in their Monday to Saturday experience.
Sometimes we fail to recognize the insidiousness of this mystical view of worship in creating frames for recognizing what is true in the world. Some churches do, and over-react by formulating liturgies which are overly logo-centric and therefore hyper-determinable. This is often paradoxically accompanied by a liturgical theology which emphasizes attitude over form, so that form is left simple and stripped down but purity of heart and attitude is given a rhetorical premium, which is then filtered into the minds of the congregation as another angle to the mystical view of worship. If I were just earnest (read emotional) on Sunday morning enough, I would have gained communion with God.
What may therefore be needful today (and I suggest this as a may), is to restore the notion that form in worship as just as important as attitude. A proper restoration of the importance and awareness of form can help to counter the mystical and emotion-centric view of worship which is aimed at encountering the Divine through an agony of the inner being, which is closely related to the earlier point about the posture of worship not being revolutionary, mobilizational, and novel. These are experiences which are tightly bound up with one another, which we would do well to avoid.
Let the anguish of the heart and overflowing joy come from convictions of the Spirit and the imprinting of the Truth. And to do so we need to return to prominence form in worship – forms which serve to promote a postures of waiting and receiving, forms which serve to keep the Romans 12 vision of life in view, forms which focus our attention of the forever High Priest who has provided the once for all sacrifice.
And so we move away from wanting to drum up an exciting individual worship atmosphere and instead adopt practices which inculcate penitence, reflection on the gospel, prayer, receiving, and waiting upon the Lord. Instead of trying to turn the worship session into an other worldly experience we should make it a prism through which we see the world ahead of us afresh through God’s eyes and practice how we are to live in it. Instead of merely being focused on the text of the Bible and the preaching of the preacher (of course, nothing diminishes their importance at all, to avoid misunderstanding), we seek forms which also places our attention on the Saviour memorializes His sacrifice.
Nothing short of a ‘Re-Form’ is recommended here. And the following link illustrates how awareness of form helps support a Romans 12 view of life – https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2015/03/worship-and-world.