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.

Living, glorifying, worshipping

In reference to this post on the distinction between “vertical” and “horizontal,” a longtime friend and reader wrote,

Perhaps the concept that we “go to worship” is a part of the problem.  Our life is to be “worship.”  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I Cor. 10:31.  Those who leave “worship” in the building and go about as though God is not their Father … well, yes, as some people say, “That is between God and me.”  That’s really The Problem — not willing to surrender to God, but lay out the guidelines according to what they want.  God will have something final to say about that.

My friend’s emphasis here — that our lives should be lived for God — is right on.  And I would agree that the conception of worship as A) a sequenced event/”service” B) in a church edifice has done inestimable damage to the theologies and belief systems of countless believers.  Worship is primarily a verb, not a noun that we go to, or sit through, as others do it for us.  We can go to the assembly for a lifetime of Sundays — and I do believe heartily in assemblies of Christians — but, sadly, it is quite possible to go/attend for decades without ever truly worshipping.

Being a disciple of Jesus — and living seven days a week for the purposes of God’s Kingdom — now that’s what it’s about.  I generally reserve the term “worship” for vertical communication with God, wherever it occurs.   But being an ambassador for God and seeking to live each hour as His child, bringing attention and glory to Him — that deserves just as much attention as vertical adoration and reverence (“worship” proper).