Off the (J.) Mark

Two very consequential subtopics have (re-)arisen as I’ve revisited the Youth Advance worship experiences of 1998.  The fundamental distinction, borrowed from lexical studies, may be seen in these pairings:

1) worship and 2) service
~ or, in other words ~
1) reverent messaging to the Creator and 2) living for others

Most members of that YA group understood some core worship concepts, but some of the teens, like many adults, were confused about what worship is (and isn’t).  And so I’d like to explain a dichotomy, working with a particular delineation.

In Leaven, Winter 1998—coincidentally, the same year of the Youth Advance about which I’ve been writingthe highly respected and consistently sought-after Dr. John Mark Hicks wrote this:

“The concept of all of life as worship is a consistent theme in the New Testament.”

Hicks appealed to Romans 12:1-2, as have so many before him and after him.  Although he also spoke with clarity about other ideas, he seemed to relegate a pervasive vertical worship principle, along with key NT words such as psalmos and proskuneo, to insignificance.  In articulating the notion of “whole-life worship” as the New Testament principle, Hicks was in effect negating the place of direct worship for the Christian.  Hicks has much to offer, and I’ve appreciated more than one thing I’ve heard from and about him.  However, inasmuch as he was suggesting that so-called whole-life worship is worship under the New Covenant, he erred.

Semi-significant aside:  Ironically enough, most of the American-English-speaking world also errs when it pronounces the word “err”—if one is interested in the original along with dictionaries’ current reflections of use, that is.  Indeed this interest seems increasingly uncommon:  it took me five tries to find an online dictionary that has the original pronunciation of “err,” which rhymes with “blur,” not “lair.”  Sadly, it takes a lot more than five tries to find groups of Christians that really understand and practice worship.  You may think that retreating to the original indicates antiquarianism (and I admit this tendency with English usage), but please consider that it may also indicate a sincere desire to get back to basics and original meanings (and I am proud of this tendency with biblical words and concepts).  The attested pronunciations of “err” are, of course, far less significant than the attested meanings of words that designate believers’ responses to God.

Now, back to Romans 12.  Christian living and duties are obviously important—and the specific occurrence of this text within the whole of Romans certainly bears that out—but they are not worship per se.  The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship—and merges it inappropriately with the notions of priestly (now, of course, all believers are priests) service, duty, and living, which are also important.  

I might say that what Paul articulates in Romans 12:1-2 reaches further than worship, but that would be a theological assessment, not a textually based fact.  Speaking objectively, we must say that Paul was not speaking of worship per se when he wrote logikan latreian in Romans 12.  Rather, he wrote of a different kind of responsiveness, in the light of God’s grace shown to all.  Moreover, a Bible translation is off the mark—darkened, I suspect, by centuries of presumptuous religious tradition that elevates liturgical leaders to the place of Hebrew priests—if it renders these Greek words “spiritual worship.”  

A better, admittedly verbose translation of logikan latreian might be that which is logically considered to be the equivalent of the old “priestly service.”  In an indirect sense, the new version of priestly sacrifice and service might be said to resemble—and to figuratively become—”worship,” and this seems to be what Paul was getting at in his Romans 12 exhortation to respond to God.  Whatever Paul meant, and even if I have mistakenly attributed the quote-marks around “worship” there, it seems unlikely—yea, impossible—that Paul would in one fell swoop have been negating vertical worship (≈ speaking/praying/singing adoring, reverent messages to the great God), when he actually models and exudes such worship in other places.

It is my studied position, then, that latreuo should be delineated as something other than proskuneo . . . and that the New Covenant version of the former compliments, but does not supplant, the latter.  (What is supplanted is the whole Levitical priest package!)  “All of life as ‘worship'” is an important, horizontally oriented idea that stands on its own, distinct from the essence of vertically oriented proskuneo.  There is nothing I know of in the New Testament that suggests we shouldn’t continue to praise or worship.  On the contrary, praise is secreted from the very pores of all scripture.  Direct worship of God is assumed.  They are normative in both Hebrew and Christian contexts.

In a multi-author book, I came upon a chapter that deals thoroughly with the NT worship words—showing, among other things, and much better than I could, that proskuneo and latreuo connote distinct ideas.  That article deserves a hearing and a spreading; I’ll probably sound this bell again soon, in order to delineate even more clearly the paradigmatic sense relationship¹ of these two words.

In the meantime, for more on Romans 12, worship, and service. . . .

¹ “. . . We may say that words are in paradigmatic relation insofar as they can occupy the same slot in a particular context. . . .  We should note that paradigmatic sense relations exploit the opposition or contrast existing between words. . . .”  Moisés Silva, “Sense Relations,” in Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics, p. 119

Sacrifice in God’s history

Several weeks ago, I began to write about the sacrifice in worship and promised myself that I’d continue.  This post concludes the series.  First, a few (and there are many to be found!) Bible instances of sacrifice.

Prior to the Egyptian captivity, Jacob/Israel exemplified it:

Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain.  (Gen. 31:54)

Prior to the great exodus, the Hebrews made a request of the Egyptians that referred to their desire to sacrifice:

Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword. (Ex. 5:3)

Something about sacrifice seems to have been calling the Hebrews spiritually. What role did sacrifice play in the Hebrew religion, and how is it, or is it not, significant for us today?

A description in Exodus 24 of a sort of high-priest-originated, ceremonial worship–which I take in contradistinction to worship of the New Covenant–has Moses sprinkling sacrificial blood on an altar and over the people.

Later in Exodus, sacrifice is dealt with in chapters 8, 10, 12, 13, 20, 23, 30, and 34.  And Leviticus and Numbers are filled with references to sacrifice.  (No surprise there.)

As the period of the judges drew to a close, could it be that sacrifice was so uncommon (only mentioned once in the book of Judges) that Elkanah’s practice was, because it was at this point atypical, worthy of note?

Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests to the LORD there.

Here, as in the Genesis account of Jacob, I notice a curiosity:  “sacrifice” apparently wasn’t total, because the humans ate the meat.  (Hannah got a double portion!)  And I wonder about this … was the element of sacrifice, of giving up something, to be more conceptual or spiritual than physical?

In 1 Sam. 15:22, Samuel warns David that it is better to obey than to sacrifice. I have to wonder whether sacrifice had lost some meaning and had become a mere salve for the conscience.  Psalm 51’s reticence (“You do not delight in sacrifice”) also deserves mention here, and in Hosea, God delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice (6:6).

Psalm 50 mentions the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”  Was something changing in the Hebrew religion?  Or were the non-fleshy sacrifices assumed, alongside the animal ones, from the patriarchal era through the Mosaical one?

Famously, Elijah and the Baal prophets dealt with sacrifice (1 Kings 18).   In this case, if indeed the “offering” is truly to be considered a sacrifice (sarcasm and conflict drip from the parchment-paragraphs of this story!), it was completely burned up.  No humans ate the meat of the bull.

In Zephaniah 1:7, “the LORD has prepared a sacrifice.”  Strange.  Maybe this mention is metaphorical, speaking cryptically of the readiness for something to happen spiritually?  In other words, to a Jewish reader who prepared sacrifices for a spiritual purpose, perhaps ascribing such preparation to God made the mind and heart expect something to happen.

Against the backdrop of the longstanding practice of Hebrew sacrifice appear Romans 12:1 and the whole of the Hebrews letter.  Jesus offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 10:12), and there are implications for our lives (Heb. 10:26).  Our “sacrifice,” metaphorically speaking and according to the writer of Hebrews, is the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15, and cf. Psalm 50, above).  The blood-symbolism is complete in Christ, and the need for repeated physical sacrifices is no more.

Paul personally exemplifies self-denial (e.g., Philippians 2:17; 3:7-8; 2 Timothy 4:6), and this seems related to personal sacrifice.  After extensive treatment in the Romans letter of the Old way, which masterfully concludes with more discussion of the relationship between Jew and non-Jew, Paul doxologizes God and follows with this passage, which does not speak of worship per se, but which does speak articulately about the wholly devoted, sacrificial Christian life.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is, logically/rationally speaking and by extension, your way to serve God.

A song I learned at camp asked this of ourselves:  “Would you be poured out like wine upon the altar for me?  Would you be broken like bread to feed the hungry?”  Immature, we sang these words, and some of us even thought about them for a few moments, maybe … but never really changing.  As much as we might “understand” sacrificed life, it strikes me squarely that no one I’ve ever known really lives it out.

It seems that the primary New Covenant sacrifice is just this–the devoted life, “offered” acceptably to God.  This type of sacrifice, of course, creates much less mess than knifing lambs and bulls and putting them on the fire … but the wholly sacrificed life is much more likely to go unattended to.  We may live three-quarters of a century of a Christian life without ever really being poured out … offered … laid down on the altar, as it were.

I make no claim to having given sufficient treatment to Old Covenant sacrifice.  I merely suggest that there were a lot of sacrifices back then, and that sacrifice also plays an important role in the New Covenant, although it is now sans specially designated priests and blood and physical altars and such.  Now, it appears to me that I am “called” by Jesus’ transcending sacrifice to do two things in response:

  1. “sacrifice” my spirit in worship and praise, vertically “loving God,” as it were
  2. consider my whole self to be “sacrificed” in life, serving others — and, by extension, serving God

In other words, 1. love the Lord my God, and 2. love my neighbor.

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (2)

Beyond the practical considerations discussed yesterday, there are also exegetical and doctrinal reasons to steer at least one lane away from “whole life worship” ideas.

I discovered this helpful passage from a somewhat unlikely source–a southern CofC bulletin that quoted the Gospel Advocate:

… much discussion has taken place about something called whole-life worship.  Perhaps you have heard some describe the daily walk of a Christian as worship.  What follows this description is an emphasis, which is correct in and of itself, on the spiritual sacrifice of living a godly life.  Nothing could be closer to God’s will for man than to live our lives in such a way that everything we do in word or in deed is in the name of the Lord.  We should live our lives in such a way that Christ — not ourselves — is seen in us (Galatians 2:20).  Worship, either private or corporate, is not something that encompasses one’s whole life but is a specific spiritual event, an event with specific instructions to govern its observance and uniquely identified from all other activities and events of Christian life.

The misunderstanding comes with the mistranslation of some key scriptures in this discussion.  The New International Version, for instance, translates the Greek word latreuo as “worship” in Romans 12:1.  By this rendering, it would appear that the day-to-day service to God is, in fact, worship.  Nothing could be further from the true meaning of this text. . . .

Christian life includes worship and service, and it’s not as though the two are unrelated, but the concepts are distinct.  If we begin to think of our service as our worship, we forget what worship is.  The converse is also true:  if we begin to think of our worship as the sum of our Christian existence, we may effectively ignore the essence of living.

Personally, I need to attain to higher levels of devoted living and service to others.  Shoot—here in my own home, I can be a louse sometimes.  But even when I am at my husbandly and fatherly and householderly best, giving my words and actions to Jesus and being sacrificial and such, I may not be worshipping, nor need I be.  Worship is something else, and it is something not discussed directly in Romans 12.  No, this passage deals with living—with the sacrificed living that becomes, in an utterly significant sense, worship-with-quote-marks.  And in order to begin to grasp what the sacrificed Christian life is, I need to understand more of the history of sacrifice in the predecessing Jewish religion.

This historical antecedent is precisely what I’ve been procrastinating about, because the territory is so unfamiliar to me.  Whenever I work up the courage, a few Old Covenant passages will merit mention!

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

Introduced by a well-meaning young believer to some of David Crowder’s thoughts, I was recently reminded of how common the “whole-life worship” idea is.  It has been assumed and/or advanced by countless Christian songwriters and authors, and is pervasive—not only in pop Christian culture, but also in some more reputable, and perhaps dated, Christian writers.  A 1990 work of J.I. Packer, and his reference to Puritan interpretation, is referred to in this clearly well-intended, although overstated and often misstated, sermon transcript that I found in a quick search.

Another example:  Mike Root’s Spilt Grape Juice, a 1993 look at the assembly, is one I believed to have traveled the no-worship, all-horizontal path.  I never read it, but here, a reviewer differs with Root “on the subject of Godward, vertical praise being abrogated in the New Testament.”  The reviewer acknowledges that “Worship in all of life” is Root’s mantra and demurs, as I would.

It’s not as though whole-life worship is a bad idea, in essence, but two aspects cause me to take exception to its ramifications.  First, speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view, the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.  I’m reminded of a most respected brother who, in a Christian musical enterprise in which we shared, was reluctant to arrange the Avalon song “Testify To Love” that used over-the-top expressions such as “with every breath I take I will testify to love.”  (Later, he politely gave in to filial pressure and did arrange it, but that’s beside the point.)  These kinds of thoughts call us higher; on the other hand, they can depress us even as they expound on lofty, unattainable ideals.

For every women’s conference that encourages sisters to look at all the dishes and consider that each one washed is an act of worship … for every Promise Keepers “totally sold out” and “go all out for God (and your wife and kids)” event … for every youth function that has featured speakers encouraging youth to do every single thing for the glory of God, we could find 99 believers who’ve been inspired and then have nearly expired trying to live up to all that.  Again, it’s a great idea, and one to which God seems to want us to aspire (but not to attain fully)—or else Rom. 12:1-2 and Col. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 10:31, etc., wouldn’t have been scribed.  Essentially the “everything for God’s glory” as a raison d’etre is a high, worthy calling, but it is ultimately frustrating for us sinners, and it does not quite touch the actual idea of worship.

While I believe that (vertical) worship must not be confined to the assembly but, rather, should surface regularly—i.e., on all days of the week in the heart and voice of the Christian—considering every deed to be Christian worship is neither logically warranted nor helpful.  This idea has the potential to leave many in its idealistic wake, and it also obscures the meaning of certain passages such as Romans 12:1.  For more, please check yesterday’s post and the one before that, and …

Please continue with me tomorrow.

Logikan latreian as worship (Romans 12)

Moving ahead from here, let’s think next about the translation of a key phrase in Romans 12:1.  Whatever the living sacrifice is or does, Paul says it becomes something.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (NKJV)

The NKJV translation chosen by Cottrill in his post renders the Greek logikan latreian as “reasonable service.”  Now, words are just words—concepts are more important—but words are still worth pursuing, and I question “reasonable.”  The way I read it, “reasonable” is a downgrade of “logical.”  In other words, “logical,” a more literal translation, would have constituted a more firm rendering.  However, either “reasonable service” or “logical service” clearly improves on the more commonly heard “spiritual worship”:  the term “spiritual” is as vague today as it is ubiquitous, and to use it in this passage is at best wispy, and at worst misleading.

By “wispy” I mean to imply that the idea that everything is worship unhelpfully ethereal (ethereally unhelpful?); in the use of “misleading,” I’m suggesting that this idea may lead us away from Paul’s inspired intent.  The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship.

Here are a few varying translations of the expression at the end of Romans 12:1, with my commentary on the right.

NET, KJV, NKJV:  … which is your reasonable service “Reasonable” is close enough to “logical” to be a reasonable approximation!
ESV:  … which is your spiritual worship To the 21C mind, “spiritual” can suggest something Eastern and transcendental.  Worse, the New Covenant word-concept “spiritual” is absent from this text.
NIV:  This is your spiritual act of worship The rendering “spiritual act” compels me, I’ll admit, but see above comment on the word “spiritual.”  The NIV does better than the NASB with this phrase, implying the very sort of morphing from physical to spiritual that I infer from Paul.  I think he was suggesting that the Christian’s life-service (sacrifice) becomes, in a way, “worship.”  Also see comment on the BBE version below.
NLT:  This is truly the way to worship him The NLT translators often play fast and loose with texts in order to make things sound contemporary.  This is no exception.  This translation is no translation at all; in my opinion, it’s an ill-begotten, ill-fated, dynamic non-equivalent!
BBE:  … which is the worship it is right for you to give him The Bible in Basic English is a translation I’m not familiar with, so I looked up a few passages.  it seems to do a pretty good job, in general, but this rendering, not unlike that of the NLT, is too loose for a Bible that purports to be a translation.  It’s more of a commentating paraphrase.  I don’t disagree with the import here, although I would add quotes around the word “worship,” but it’s nowhere near translation status:  “it is right for you to give him” doesn’t appear in the text at all.
NASB:  … which is your spiritual service of worship Although I’m typically a champion of the NASB in terms of its literal renderings and careful translations, I think the Lockman Foundation missed the mark on two and one-half fronts here.  Again, “spiritual” is not in this text at all.  “Service” is, but “service of worship” would at a glance imply the presence of two words, and the single word is latreian. While “service” is a reasonable single-word translation of the Greek, it is not altogether sufficient to convey the concept, which may be why the NASB translators felt the need to take a further step in English.  Unfortunately, they chose an institutionalized church-ese expression ne’er found or implied in the NC scriptures:  “service of worship.”  Brethren and cistern, there is no such Biblical animal as a “service of worship.”  Translating to match the institutional status quo makes the NASB guys no better than ol’ King James’s men.

Next:  back to the beginning—looking at the idea of whole-life worship and sacrifice

Sacrifice in worship (Romans 12)

Several weeks ago, I began to write about the sacrifice in worship and promised (myself more than you) that I’d continue from where I’d left off.

The notion of religious sacrifice is many-faceted and possesses a long history.  I don’t claim any real handle on it, not adhering to the predecessing Jewish religion that makes a practice of bloody sacrifices, not having ever offered a single such sacrifice, and not having pursued the matter with any sort of scholarly bent.  (Cults, spiritist religions of the third-world, and satanic religion also sometimes include sacrifice, but that’s more than a little afield.)  Considering the idea of sacrificed in worship seems worthwhile because of its frequent appearance in scripture, if for no other reason.

A blogger on hymns and Christian songs, writing about “Trust and Obey,” recently wrote about giving one’s entire life as a “sacrifice”:

The Christian life involves daily faith and obedience, exercised in many different situations. But there is an underlying commitment that provides a foundation for this. The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans 12:1.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

The Greek verb tense for “present” indicates it’s to be a once-for-all action. We are to yield ourselves to God as “living sacrifices,” forever and for all. That is what [the author] is referring to in [st. 4] of our hymn, when he says, “We never can prove the delights of His love / Until all on the altar we lay.” Then, hundreds of daily acts of faith and obedience grow out of that, as described in [st. 5].

– Robert Cottrill,

In attempting to be circumspect about the Christian life, it’s helpful to apprehend Cottrill’s words on the Greek tense of the word “present”:  a welcome freedom comes from not having to devise some way that every keystroke, every dish rinsed, every word, every mile driven, every test graded, every tooth brushed, and every bit of garbage carried to the curb is “worship.”  Not to denigrate any of those actions!  They are part and parcel of life, and the Christian believer’s life is no more lofty than anyone else’s.  We need to have our heads in heaven but our feet on the earth, as someone has said.[1]

Yet some days, it’s easier to think of more of my actions as sacrifice and as “worship” than others; whether you resonate with me on this or not, this very idea of sacrifice—whether it’s to be thought of as once-for-all or as continuous and all-pervading—is something to be contended with . . . in due time.

Next, somewhat out of order, I’ll peer into what the sacrifice becomes, in God’s eyes.

[1] The saying is attributed to Benedict and/or Augustine (whom I respectfully refuse to call “saint,” because that would imply a special status for them) and reappropriated by many over the years.