Service, worship, and interests: response to comments (part 2)
In a post a few days ago (Everything we do? (Nope.), I tried to say that it is both a logical and a biblical mistake for folks to think that everything we do is worship. I find the biblical concept of worship to be more specific.
A friend who works as a preacher probed my essay a bit. I decided to respond in multiple ways, and yesterday’s post was part of that, dealing with worship and service and Romans 12. Today, I’d like to flesh out the secondary idea I had initially presented. . . .
(continued . . .)
I probably just should have left this part out of the post, but I had connected the notion of whole-life worship to what I referred to as preachers’ vested interests. I have broad preconceptions that often lead me to look askance at church staff positions, but the linkage in the original post came from a specific church visit back in June. When I heard this preacher in a friend’s church suggest that everything is worship, it rang hollow for at least two reasons.
First: this preacher immediately proceeded to a Revelation passage that referred to proskuneo, yet it was clear that a) his words and b) John’s words were speaking of different things. I’m kind of big on labels, i.e., using terminology intentionally. And, not incidentally, I am more energetic than ever for a Restoration Movement principle: I want to “speak of Bible things in Bible ways.” My radar immediately went up when I heard “worship” referred to, immediately after “not-worship” was mentioned, as though they were the same thing.
Next (and here’s where the “interests” come in): in that particular context, the preacher’s suggestion that everything the church does was “worship” struck me as serving his own purposes as chief executive of a church corporation. By this I mean that, if the parking lot ministry people and the A/V folks and the custodians and the accountants and all the rest are supposedly worshipping when they direct traffic, turn knobs, clean floors, and fill in spreadsheets, then that “fact” appears on the surface to imbue all these activities with a special sense of worth. In other words, if we can somehow make ourselves believe those things are “worship,” it makes them loftier and more tied to God; therefore, it is difficult to question them, change them, or say “no” when asked to do them. All this ends up serving the corporation and ultimately, the CEO, a/k/a “pastor” or “preacher.” People feel obliged to do all those things even more, and the end result is that the system perpetuates itself.
Not that any of those “ministry” activities are bad! They are inherently neutral or even good. And people may well be glorifying God’s purposes by doing them at times. The fact is, though, they are not proskuneo. What I am doing right now — expressing thoughts about some of the things of the Lord — is not in itself worship. It may or may not glorify God, and people may or may not (likely not) be led to worship by reading, but the acts of writing and reading can’t legitimately be said to be worship.
You mentioned Hebrews 12:28, wanting to see if my ideas and those of this biblical writer would mesh. I certainly don’t see any conflict, and I hope you trust me well enough to know I have great respect for the biblical text. This passage doesn’t speak of proskuneo-worship — but what it says about latreuo could probably be said about the specific vertical response, too. The Hebrews author doesn’t appear to define worship, really, but he uses a term in 12:28 that has a range of meanings. That range of meanings includes religious rituals, service rendered for hire, service of God according to the Levitical law, ministration, and homage (according to Thayer). The notion of homage, of course, dovetails with the notion of proskuneo (“kissing toward”), but the latre* word family seems rarely, if ever, to be used by NT writers with reference to the same things that proskuneo refers to. Does this help any?
As for my indictment of preachers: “vested interest” in this context, for me, meant “financial interest.” I sincerely believe most preacher roles in view today have been morphed and aggrandized to the point that they cannot be identified with any roles described in the New Testament. This status quo leads to a tenuous situation. So that the institutional systems that pay their salaries are maintained, certain operational aspects of the church corporations must periodically be artificially propped up. I don’t hide here that my view is cynical, but this doesn’t mean that preachers don’t do good. I am simply naming the fact that preachers/pastors have a financial interest in operational perpetuation of their congregations, but the existence of extra-biblical church roles does not in itself imply that they are evil or even unwise. For me, it does mean that they deserve to be questioned.
I would hasten to add that your particular role is not one I would care to criticize. I absolutely believe you have a vested spiritual interest in helping your hearers understand and do worship more fully — that’s a better kind of vested interest! In a future post, I plan to treat something closely related — what I’ll call “professional perpetuation.” It’s certainly not just preachers who have “interest” in seeing their enterprises perpetuated. My own profession does the same thing! Eventually I will take my vocational calling to task, as well. 🙂