Worship: affirmation or action?

Living, glorifying, worshipping        Vertical/horizontal redux

After reading the above recent posts on worship, John, a reader from Texas, wrote, in part:

Jesus himself identifies the worship which God desires from us.  And in identifying it he contrasts it with the worship which the woman had in mind when she asked him to tell her the proper place to perform it.  . . .

Jesus . . .  stated that the time was coming, and now was, when true worship would not be performed in either of those locations but would be done in spirit and in truth.  In spirit and in truth is in contrast with the worship the woman inquired about.  The truth part rested in the nature of the sacrifice contrasted with the shadow of the truth that was represented in the woman’s worship, and also in that performed in Jerusalem.  Various animals were sacrificed. . . .  Jesus himself was the truth that those animals only represented.  The worship the woman asked about was performed by humans’ physical acts of slaying the animals and then performing the required work on them.  The worship God desired and still desires, is not physical but is spiritual.  It was done for us, by Jesus, and all we can do is accept it as being full recompense for our own sins.  The worship God desires has nothing to do with our actions.  It is not in some mysterious way related to the way we treat others or how we live daily.  It is spiritually accepting Jesus’ redeeming work as being imputed to us in place of our own soiled righteouness.

In response, I would again state up-front that a general misconception of worship has done inestimable damage to the theologies and belief systems of countless believers.  This misconception has worship a) consisting in a sequenced event/”service” and b) existing solely within the confines of a church edifice.  Worship is primarily a verb, not a noun that we go to, or sit through, waiting for others do it for us.  It is quite possible to go/attend “services” for decades without ever truly worshipping.

Certainly, I track with John (quoted above) on the radical difference Jesus was ushering in.  Yes, the location-bound model was to be eradicated:  “in spirit” stands in contrast to “in a specific location,” i.e., Jerusalem.  But why would the “truth” aspect be encapsulated in a faith-acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice when that acceptance doesn’t involve proskuneo?  I think it is more logical to assume that “in truth” = “truly.”  In other words, worship “in truth” is not something else done or felt “in truth,” but it is still worship, with one new emphasis on genuineness or  actuality.  Truly worshipping, then, would be the same as actually worshipping.  Put yet another way:  in John 4, Jesus did not say, “No longer will the Father want worship” or “Instead of worship, the Father will now want _____.”  Rather, He said, “The Father desires worship in new/renewed ways.”

So what is this worship?  The antecedent word is “proskuneo,” and proskuneo connotes action, or at least action of the spirit (the latter may be more preferable to some, for reasons of personality preference, or for reasons of distinction from Jewish practice) in relation to God.  Bringing the theologically charged word “work” into this discussion by calling attention to “work performed” on the animals seems tenuous, but it is appropriate to draw some distinctions been New-Covenant worship and that of the Old.  Under both major covenants, though, worship is an active-verb thing that appears more closely related to adoration and homage than to mentally/spiritually affirming the Ultimate Sacrifice.

By no means do I intend here to minimize the value of the inner faith-response to our Messiah’s Sacrifice — far from it.  It could very well be that one who is spiritually affirming Jesus’ death as the finished, atoning work of God is, in fact, engaging in proskuneo of the spirit.  In other words, the vibrant human spirit in tune with God’s grace is probably energetically worshipping spiritually whether she thinks she is or not.

Here’s an additional, larger-context thought — something I learned from a deeply committed disciple who also happens to have a doctorate in missiology.  (If I had read more of John’s gospel in large chunks, i.e., more contextually, I could have picked up on this myself, because it’s not embedded very deep.  The above-quoted friend John has also alluded to it.)  Simply put, it is that, in John’s gospel, Jesus is truth.  So, worship “in truth” (John 4:24) might be, to some extent, worship “in the truth that is personified in Jesus.”  This would still seem to speak of an action, not merely a mental or spiritual acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Our worship — our proskuneo — could be said to be made more full, more intimate, more relationally meaningful because of the grace and truth expressed in Jesus and the New Covenant.

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Addendum:  If I might go out on a limb here … I don’t think the worship “baby” should be thrown out with the time-clock-punching, “accuracy”-driven “worship service” bathwater of the CofC (or of any similar group).  Some of us, myself included, may be inclined toward framing worship in terms of a response to information — which would seem Campbellite (rational) in orientation.  But just because certain church groups have been incorrectly handling aspects (when they thought they had “right” worship down pat) doesn’t mean that anyone, as s/he is evolving, should shed the essence of worship.  It just means we keep trying to enact the core idea, without all the shadowy stuff from the intervening decades/centuries.
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5 thoughts on “Worship: affirmation or action?

  1. John Eoff 02/10/2013 / 10:03 am

    Paul gives some characteristics of things spiritual in contrasting them with things physical–(1st Corinthians 15) Natural (or physical things) are temporal—passing away, and are visible—thus subect to our sences, whille spiritual thngs are eternal and are unseen —thus not subject to our sences. Since sacrifice is the only worship God has prescribed and animat sacrifice was only a shadow of what was to be of true value it seems likely to me that THE worship whilch God desires is that unseen true worship (sacrifice), his acceptance of which was signafied by the true high priest’s second appearance unto salvation. Does anyone really think that God has some ego problem, such as we, that he gets any thrill or beneift from human devotion to Him? Of course, seeing his goodness to us, it is impossible, our nature being what it is, to not respond to that in adoration and devotion through what ever means we can adequately express it. Such is good for us—but not what God seeks, as I understand Jesus.

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    • Brian Casey 02/10/2013 / 1:49 pm

      John, I’m just back from some rather weak corporate attempts at worship. For me, these were made weaker by a) limited technological tools and b) mildly immature planning, c) certain vicissitudes of the leader’s efforts, and d) by a plethora of distractions such as people paying no attention and making a lot of extraneous noise. All that said, I was able to worship some in my own heart, and a bit less with my voice. Plus, I don’t discount that the distractions I experienced were almost certainly less bothersome to many others, so others were probably worshipping in a way that felt better to them, at least.

      Anyway, back to this discussion. I greatly appreciate the “seems likely” and the “as I understand Jesus” in your comments. I also support the emphasis on the spiritual over the physical. I went through a time in which worship needed to be more physical, and I’m not altogether sure that “need” was of the Lord *per se.* These days, I’m interested much more in what’s going on beyond the physical. Physical manifestations may not be immaterial, but at least they should be subservient. On the general spiritualization trends under the New Covenant, we agree!

      I would take some exception to any emphasis on prescription (either under the Old or New) — although prescription is certainly present. Based on the countless examples of worship in, e.g., Daniel, Psalms, Exodus, John, Revelation, I would take much stronger exception to any suggestion that all worship as an act of the spirit and/or body was eradicated in Jesus.

      As I read your comment here to my wife, we both greatly appreciated the next-to-last sentence: that adoring response is natural — and, I would say, *anticipated* and *desired* and *right.* (Personally, I’d stop short of saying worship is “commanded” or “demanded,” but I hear those words as negatively charged, as I think you do.) I do think God continues to seek worship of the *proskuneo *sort. The notion of seeking doesn’t seem so bad, so heavy-handed, does it?

      Also, can you tell me why you think that sacrifice (of animals, I presume) is the only worship God has prescribed?

      In the meantime, I’m pretty content with exploring avenues and means of * proskuneo* — because it seems good for me, and because I’m convinced it pleases God. It may be particularly pleasing to Him because it’s something I *choose,* whether we want to think of Him as asking for it or not. I’m not at all content with my efforts or with corporate worship where I experience it most of the time, but I keep trying to experience worship, as I believe I will eternally.

      P.S. By the way — perhaps not merely incidentally — I take Revelation (after chapters 2 & 3) as primarily presenting a timeless picture of the eternal kingdom, and I hang some of my worship hats on the hooks shown in chapters 4, 5, and 19.

      P.P.S. This material is so important to me that I’d like more people to read it, so I’m going to post a good deal of it again as a new “essay.”

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  2. Anne Boyd 02/10/2013 / 11:58 am

    Refreshing! Perhaps all will be amazed to experience True Worship after we get Home. His grace will cover all intentional followers of Jesus. ”

    Refreshing thoughts, Brian and John! Isaiah 64:4 “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
    Isaiah 65:17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
    James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Praying that God’s grace will cover all of our misconceptions about what He considers to be worship. Just keep trying to enact the core idea! — Anne Boyd

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    • Brian Casey 02/10/2013 / 2:04 pm

      I love to think of being “amazed to experience” worship after we get home, Anne. That thought alone keeps us focused on His Being.

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