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.

Preparing for onslaught

Monday, I heard a speaker refer to reforming.  She framed herself as a Calvinist, and therefore, a “reformer.”

Notice the suffix she chose.

The speaker’s self-descriptor caused me to question both her literalness and the self-awareness of most religious movements.  (Don’t ask.  I’m just like that with words.)  She could equally aptly have said, “I’m (R)reformed,” but that sounds a little more static.  I myself would also choose the bolder assertion of being a reformer, and with that boldness goes a certain amount of misplaced arrogance, I know.  The point is that I want to be engaged actively in reforming.

Again with the suffixes:  I could have said “I want to be engaged in reformation,” but the –ation wouldn’t have implied enough ongoing activity for my taste.  Maybe that’s just how I hear it.

I would not choose “reformed” or “restored,” even if the former term had no denominational associations.  Calvinist and American Restorationists (Stone-Campbellers) alike tend to view themselves as having restored, as having arrived, to an appreciable extent.  The concrete resultant state is the problem.  To think we have it all figured out is also arrogant, of course.  I find it a trifle unbecoming for anyone to label himself “Reformed.”

The gerund -ing implies just the right thing.  I want to be an active reformer, which means I’m into reforming on an ongoing basis.  Calvin and Zwingli were as explicitly interested in a primitivist, back-to-the-Bible brand of Christianity as I am.  I was intrigued yesterday by some material I was reading on Zwingli–he is said to have stressed the “utterly unique authority of Scripture,” holding the Bible at the “heart of reformation.”  (Begbie, Resounding Truth, 114).  The 16C reformers said and did some good things, and they went overboard on some others—just like the rest of us.  If we continue actively reforming today, these overboard positions receive fresh analyses.  That’s the kind of Christianity I want to be engaged in.  Christ-ian discipleship implies active learning and following.

For the next three days, I’ll be availing myself of an opportunity for blistering criticism.  This will be, in a limited sense, a strong—like poblano peppers?—taste of active reforming.  These posts will by no means be a bedrock look at central doctrines.  Rather, they will constitute one possible starting point in the business of reforming.

Those of you who may wish to position yourselves “graciously” at the ecumenical epicenter of Christendom may wish to tune out until Sunday.  🙂  Starting tomorrow, for a planned three days, I’ll be posting a criticism of the Roman Catholic notion of priesthood, touching on related doctrines and assumptions that are in desperate need of reforming.  It is not only the RC institution that deserves censure; there are applications for all of us in all our church groups.  Let us continue reforming.

Ekklesia values 3 (labels 1)

Labels can be as helpful as they can be damaging. In recent e-inquiries, I’ve noted some label-esque lingo that helped to clarify where certain churches stand on this or that matter, on this or that spectrum, etc. Some will refuse outright to answer questions about where they would place themselves on the liberal-conservative continuum. I think it’s sadly amusing when someone plays ignorant: “I’m not sure what you mean. We just teach the Bible.” Gimme a break; just answer the question. . . .

On the other hand, some answers are more revealing than the people realize. A reference to “Elim Bible Institute” tells me something, in my part of the country. “Authority of the Bible (KJV)” tells me something about the given church. I probed this one once, and the responder stopped short of saying “we require the KJV.” He did, however, say that, for him, the KJV was a matter of conviction and not merely preference. Why? Because it was the KJV that was used to “convert” him, and he figured it was good enough for him to use in his preaching. A sad commentary on a closed, seeker-insensitive, yet apparently sincere heart. Not to mention the lack of regard for more recent textual scholarship and words which have changed in meaning to the point that the import of texts is obscured by 400-year-old language. I digress. . . .

Some labels are prejudicial:

  • “Reformed,” for instance, implies both
    • a need to be reformed (which I accept), and
    • the assumption that other churches not bearing their type of Reformed characteristics and sharing their faith-tenets are particularly in need of reforming (which I do not accept).
  • “Full gospel” used to be a mystery to me, but no more. The optimist/pessimist conundrum aside, I resent the insinuation that my gospel is a partially empty gospel.

I do acknowledge the potentially detrimental nature of religious labels, so I reluctantly, and hopefully carefully, use some labels to describe my own values. My ideal church would be …

==> Carefully progressive yet ancient, both modern and postmodern, conservative yet liberal, traditional yet contemporary, primitivist but not off-puttingly so, and emerging

Multiple cans o’ worms there, huh? (To be continued …)