Proskuneo and latreian (3)

I’m thinking still about worship and its Koine Greek antecedent word-concepts.  From Roy Lanier of yesteryear, fast forward a few years.  [This post continues thoughts from two days ago.]

Max Lucado once exhorted, “Live your liturgy.”¹  In reading that, the high-church liturgists may feel validated, and we all may feel somewhat justified in continuing our patterns when we read Lucado’s words.  After all, pretty much all of us have liturgies.  Yet I think the point was that discipleship through the week is also significant.  If we could be more consistent, things would be better.  Here’s my extrapolation on Lucado’s admonition:


If you’re going to do worship in Q style, live in that style.  Or if you worship in Z style or Y style, live in that style.

You might think there would be more connection between life and the unimportant (in some cases, silly) liturgies pretty much all of us experience on a weekly basis.  From mountain church to sea-level church to rolling-hills church — it doesn’t matter how “high” or “low” your tradition is — our corporate patterns are, way too often, just so much fluff.

And we fiddle while Rome burns.  Our lives are pathetic.  We really don’t live “up to snuff” (that’s redneck for “consistent with standards”) with any of our would-be-transformative Sunday “worship” activities.

Something needs to be re-calibrated.  We could either cease trying to engage in so-called worship activities, or we could try to bring the other 117.5 waking hours a week into harmony.

Essentially, some cognitive consonance in this sphere would be nice — and highly advisable from the eternal perspective.

Now, to move from the inspirational-yet-human to the specifically God-breathed . . .

Romans 12 tends to come up in worship discussions among enlightened Christian-types.  Romans 12, however, does not deal with worship, strictly speaking.  The noun here is not “proskuneo.”  It’s “latreian,” a cognate of “latreuo” which speaks of sacrificial ministry (think animal sacrifice, then transfer that to the NC).  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) reports these bits:

  • latreian is used 9x in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and “refers generally to cultic worship”
  • a connection exists with OT priestly service and douleuein (general service)
  • in the ancient Philo’s writings, this word is said to “embrace the ministry of virtue and spiritual service to God” — wonder if the oft-cited Philo is why some English versions translated “logiken” as “spiritual”?

Etymologically related to the above, the root latron means, roughly, “to work for reward” and “to serve.”  This, friends, is an idea quite distinct from the meaning carried in the word proskuneo, which means “kiss toward.”   Proskuneo connotes bowing, obeisance, and reverential homage shown toward another, greater being.

The expression in Rom. 12:1 is logiken latreian; logiken is a relatively uncommon biblical word and could be said to have spawned our word “logical.”  Latreian is also uncommon in this particular form.  Its basic meaning is “service rendered for hire, ministration,” and it further is said to be related to the likes of Levitical priestly service.

Robertson’s Word Pictures  gives this further insight:

Which is your reasonable service (ten logiken humon latreian). “Your rational (spiritual) service (worship).” For latreia, see on Romans 9:4 . Logiko is from logo, reason. The phrase means here “worship rendered by the reason (or soul).”

I think Robertson may be affected by church tradition here in linking “service” with “worship”; I do not not see anything directly vertical, i.e., human-to-God, in Rom. 12:1.  I rather think Paul is suggesting that offering ourselves becomes, rationally (or even figuratively?) speaking, the New equivalent of Old priestly service.  Logiken ≈ logical ≈ rational, and latreian ≈ horizontal service, not vertical worship.  Assuming I’m right, this verse is not about worship per se but is about Christian living more generally.  Worship, after all, was never halted, but animal sacrifices were.

Paul is saying, I am convinced, that when we offer our whole selves to God, the resulting “sacrifice,” so to speak, becomes the equivalent of the priestly service that is no longer a part of how we approach God.


¹ Here, although I highly doubt Lucado had this level of zing in mind when he wrote his phrase, I’ll acknowledge my bias against the high church.  The disconnect between corporate worship and life is exaggerated when the corporate worship is in a dead language.

By the way, the term “high church” is inherently questionable, as though other ways and means exist on a lower, undignified plane.  This reminds me of another inherently questionable term:  “Reformed.”  Yeah, I know that things needed drastic reforming in the time of Luther and Calvin, but the use of “reformed” today seems to imply a progress, a development, a reformation that no longer reflects the situation.  Today, there is not just one church institution that is reforming, or that needs reforming.  We all need reforming — certainly including the “Reformed” ones — and many other groups at least make efforts at reforming along the way.


Call to worship

The study group that meets in our home is giving attention to Philemon for the next few weeks.  (Yes, you read that right.  A few weeks.  For such a short letter?  Yes.  Scripture texts–and perhaps especially Pauline ones–manifest such elegance, such structural integrity, and they deserve such attention!)

We are also intentionally incorporating more worship into our times together during this season.  It is my hope that worship will arise somewhat naturally as we begin, or as we consider this or that aspect of the text, or as we close for the night.  But worship does not always arise naturally, so those of us who wish to worship sometimes need to intentionally, specifically say to those around us, “It’s time to worship now.”  This frequent need leads me to think about the “Call to Worship” used in some churches.

The “Call to Worship” is an interesting entity that has already begun to lose its meaning though it has only been around—in non-liturgical churches, at least—for a few decades.

For some, the “call” is just that—a phrase spoken with enthusiasm just before worship is to begin.  It might be something as simple as “Let’s all join hearts and voices as we sing a song of praise.”  For others, the call to worship may have more advance thought put into it.  It might be an oral reading, from Psalms or from another scripture passage, that emphasizes something about God or about our relationship to the Creator.  Perhaps a devotional reading from a great writer, or a prayer or song of homage or adoration.  Truth is, many things can serve to call the saints to attention (forgive the military imagery, but after all, we are soldiers in service of our King) as worship begins.

It amuses me (OK, sometimes it’s more annoying than amusing) when the “call to worship” occurs after the worshipping has begun.  There is really no point when your church has sung “We Shall Assemble” (a sort of “call to worship” in itself) and “Holy, Holy, Holy” and then breaks the train of thought by having someone stand up to say “Good morning!  What?  I didn’t hear you out there.  Now, we can do better than that.  I said ‘Good morning!’  Ah, that’s better.  Now … let’s all turn in our Bibles to this morning’s “call to worship” scripture:  Psalm 8. . . .”

If you choose to use a “call to worship,” let it function as it is supposed to function—to unite the saints in worship-filled thought and feeling.  A “call to worship” should be functional in terms of its content, i.e., not everything that fills the place of the “Call” on the printed order of worship may actually be a call.  And please do not allow any throw-away songs or prayers that are inserted as ritual actions to get the restless natives calmed down.  Each statement, each prayer, each scripture should be voiced with deliberate, conscious intent, and with spiritual meaning!

God vs. humans

Again I would — this time, primarily through the apt words of another — call attention to the tendency of the human to put himself in the place of God:

John Brooks of the Church of God (Holiness) argued that human law in the church was “not only unnecessary, but presumptuous.” The Divine Church (Columbia, MO.: Herald, 1891; rpt., New York: Garland, 1984), 27. The flyleaf of Brooks’s book describes its contents: “a treatise on the origin, constitution, order, and ordinances of the Church; being a vindication of the New Testament Ecclesia, and an exposure of the anti-scriptural character of the modern church of sect.” Church of sect is Brooks’s term for the denominational system. – Susie C. Stanley, “‘Bumping’ into Modernity,” in The Primitive Church in the Modern World, ed. Richard T. Hughes, 136.

Why would we want to codify church discipline, creedalize beliefs, and legislate liturgies? Part of me wishes I could get into the “Church Year” stuff, because it might indeed help to balance topics for the sake of the masses. But I just haven’t been able to lend my support yet. Systematizing such practices seems to correspond to what the Pharisees had done with the Torah.

On a more personal note, I confess that I have to fight the tendency to turn my brain and heart off at the mere suggestion of liturgy. Even in low-church settings, where I find myself most often, the simplest and most harmless of habitual behaviors can irk me, requiring me to expend energy just to hurdle the thing so I can get something out of it. I’m not asking for compensating methodologies to be offered … merely expressing feelings that are not likely to change in the near future.