Worship and service: the worlds of awe and anxiety

While taking a long-deferred bicycle ride, I listened to an old tape of Mike Armour talking about “Worship When the Wonder Withers.” A worthwhile re-experience! Among other things, Mike spoke about the two “worlds” in which we exist as believers:

  • the world of worship, in which we’re surrounded by others who believe, and in which we’re overwhelmed by awe
  • the world of waiting, in which we’re surrounded by the rest of the earth’s populus, and in which we’re overwhelmed by anxiety

Another helpful phrasing was the notion that worship can, and should, connect these “worlds” of worship and waiting. Worship should not just be part of the so-called world of worship (I guess this is or something along the lines of a conundrum or a paradox); we need private and corporate worship that will change us . . . so that our ethics of living are ultimately affected.

This may be what Paul was getting at in Romans 12:1-2 when, after extended theological treatments of faith, sin, justification, etc., he says that our horizontally focused religious service is, in a sense, “worship.” This is not proskuneo (vertical, “kissing toward” obeisance) here; instead, the living of true religion seems to become, by spiritual transformation, another type/manifestation of worship to God.

The term in Rom. 12 is latrein, from the root latreuo, which in turn is related to leitourgeia, from which we get “liturgy.” I have a stiff-necked reaction to the very word “liturgy.” For me, in that word lies all the haze of religious incantation and shadowy practice, all the presumption of full-blown, human-led denominationalism, and all the off-base, manmade ceremony of the centuries.

But what does Paul say? Our latrein, our service is to be thought of as an offering to God. It’s not worship in the strictest sense, yet our horizontal service is transmogrified into a spiritualized vertical worship. And this “worship” is no longer the ritual of a special priesthood; it is the holy calling of all of us saints.

P.S. In case you didn’t notice, I should like to point out that nowhere in this essay does the term “worship service” appear. I’ve said it before and will say it again: both this term and the concept are human inventions that do injustice to each distinct idea. Worship is worship, and service is service. It’s not that “never the twain shall meet,” but they are distinct and deserve distinct consideration.

One thought on “Worship and service: the worlds of awe and anxiety

  1. blcasey 08/28/2009 / 7:59 am

    A cherished reader asked, “Is “spiritual service” (Romans 12) the same as “worship”?

    I wouldn’t say “spiritual service” *is* worship; I’d say, rather, that spiritual service becomes like worship to God, and the two serve similar functions in the Christian’s life.

    Like

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