Proskuneo and latreian (4)

This post is the 4th (and probably the last, for a while) in a series about worship and service.  Proskuneo and latreian are two key biblical words (Greek antecedents) that can aid our understanding.

A new friend has recently commented, suggesting that Jesus’ depiction of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) is not exactly a positive highlighting, viewed through New-Covenant lenses.  If I’m reading him correctly, he believes that the inner faith-response to the singular act of Jesus on the cross constitutes the only “worship” indicated under the New Covenant.  I’ve never heard this shading before but have been thinking about it.

It appears to me that Jesus, as reported by John, was calling the woman to something a) not bound by location and b) genuine, true.  Both aspects may stand in contrast to Jewish worship of the time, but especially so in the first case.  Since as a Samaritan she was not exactly in the “in” crowd, perhaps Jesus was suggesting to her, by saying “in spirit,” that she could worship despite her lack of Jewish access to the temple.  This worship would not consist in temple service or in Jerusalem at all.  It would be, said He, homage-communication of the spirit, and it would be true — not feigned or dissociated from reality.

The genuine/authentic/true component of Jesus’ statement could also be conceived of as contrasting with then-current Jewish corruptions.  I’m not saying this is THE way to read it — only one possible way to read it.  Subjunctively stated, then, it would sound something like this:

“Woman, your worship doesn’t have to be like that of the Jews:  it could now exist regardless of Jerusalem, and could be engaged in more authentically than is typical, in the midst of the Jewish stuff these days.”

(Aside:  no matter whether I’m on target here, or how much any reader might disagree with me, we must all categorically reject the idea that the “in truth” part of the phrasing has anything directly to do with the CofC’s [or any other group’s] views on “correct” acts in the church assembly.  Not that “correctness” isn’t important, but this text has nothing to do with it.)

There’s really not much about worship in the gospels or the letters.  I take it that the early Christians just worshipped and didn’t find the need to write about it so much, but I acknowledge that it’s logically possible for worship to have been less a priority in, or almost absent from, Christian gatherings.  Possible, but not likely, I’d say.

On the horizontal, “priestly service” side, Hebrews certainly seems to corroborate that Jesus’ sacrifice is the true, central replacement for the latreuo or leitourgeia of the Old Covenant.  (No more animal sacrifices!  Jesus — once and for all!)  But this unique honoring of our Lord’s offering doesn’t negate the offering of ourselves described in Rom. 12.  Hebrews passages — taken separately or conjoined with the entire New Covenant corpus — do also place Jesus at the core, philosophically and theologically.

Connections with 1st-century synagogue practices have been used to justify some elements of Christian worship that I don’t find valid in the New Covenant.  Coincidentally, I’ve just reviewed an issue of Worship Leader magazine in which so many assumptions are made along the lines of the “history of Christian worship” that I couldn’t keep up with my own question marks in the margins.  It’s hard to trust the thinking of public leaders and venues when so few seem to be able to distinguish between biblically implied/suggested/commanded things and historically, traditionally practiced ones.

As an example:  there is no biblical blueprint for a corporate assembly, despite the supposed plan propagated by, e.g., the late guru Robert Webber.  According to him and many others, the “authorized way” is something along these lines:

1 – gathering in (or the call into) the outer courts

2 – hearing the Word in scripture and sermon

3 – responding to the word

4 – going out to bear witness

I find no such pattern stated in scripture; to infer it is to superimpose mankind’s tradition. Moreover, some of those items are laden with baggage, and the layout emphasizes acts that are not, strictly speaking, worship.  The actual subject treated seems to be “the service,” as developed by institutional Christianity, ant not worship per se.  The four-point structure deals more with overall conceptions for Christian responses and the living of life.  It’s not wrong to use such a pattern for a corporate so-called “service,” but it smacks of the Old Covenant to legislate said pattern.

To any who think worship is contra-indicated in NC scripture (younger believers, these people do exist, and many of them are quite sincere), I would say this:  I don’t see that vertical worship communication (the proskuneo variety) was snuffed out with the cross.  It further seems that some expressions of, e.g., the Psalms are enduring, not obsolete.  Furthermore, doxologies such as those found in Philippians 2, Ephesians 1, and 1 Timothy 1 strongly suggest that first-century Christians were giving vertical, reverent, adoring attention to the Christ.  In addition, the example of the woman of Luke 7:36 appears as a striking example of a very literal act of spontaneous worship (proskuneo is, roughly, bowing and “kissing toward”) honored by Jesus.  Although shedding tears and wiping one’s feet with long hair should not be viewed a paradigm for all time, it is certainly presented positively in the narrative.  If this example were to be scoffed at, I would think Jesus, or Luke (ca. 40 years later) would have framed the woman’s action negatively.

In sum, at this juncture, I believe proskuneo is both assumed and indicated under the New Covenant.  I believe the same about latreia(n).  One is vertical, involving reverent homage shown to a greater being; the other is horizontal, effectively substituting service acts toward others for Old-Covenant animal sacrifices and various Levitical acts.  While there is certainly a spiritual connection between the two (proskuneo and latreian), the concepts are distinct, and we do a disservice to both the ideas of worship and service by amalgamating them.  This is obviously an oversimplification, but I trust that it helpfully delineates.

Below are links to some previous posts on worship and/or service.  Especially if some of the above is muddy, I would invite you to read past essays on related topics, and comment where you find me off-track (or where you agree).

Synagogue Worship as Model

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