Defining Worship (Part 3): Bowing to the Greek and Hebrew

Alright, so the bible talks all about worship right? The word shows up hundreds of times. What did it mean to the apostles and patriarchs? This is a quick word study done using the Strongs concordance and KJV bible. I’m sure an exhaustive study would be beneficial, but I write these posts on my lunch break and only have about 45 minutes. I think I have enough to go off of. I was surprised by what I found.

Let’s start with the OT:

Abraham worshipping with Isaiac on Mt. Horeb (Gen 22:5)
“Thou shalt worship no other God, for the Lord thy God is a Jealous God…” (Ex 34:14)
“All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name.” (Psalm 66:4)

Virtually every time it appears, it is the Hebrew word Shachah – to bow down or prostrate oneself.
It’s used 100 times as “worship” and ~50 times as bow or stoop.

There is no idea of paying homage to deiety, singing songs, doing something ceremonial or ANY of the other activities we typically associate with worship. It is literally physically bowing down. Now bowing down probably implies that other things are going on (in the heart), or that other things may be going on around you. But the word means to get on your knees or face. That’s it.

The book of Daniel was originally in Aramaic, not Hebrew, so we get a little bit different word there:

“Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image” (Daniel 3:10)

The word is C@gid – to prostrate oneself, do homage, worship.
Used 12 times as worship

There it is again. To bow down. Worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue consisted entirely of physically bowing down in front of or toward it. Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego just had to stay standing up to get the death sentence.

Alright, what does the New Testament have to say?
I was surprised to discover that the word worship doesn’t actually show up very much in the NT at all.
Here are some examples:

“We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him…” – Says the wise men in Matthew 2:2.

And now for the most quoted verse on worship in the whole Bible:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

There is also magnificent imagery of worship in heaven:
“The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, holy, holy…” – Revelation 4:10

All of these are instances of the Greek word Proskuneo. Used 60 times, it means:

to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence,
among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence,
in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication

So it’s definitely more defined in the NT. Other physical actions such as kissing the hand could be described. My guess is that this is a cultural difference. Maybe more southern-Europe than middle-east. Also, the idea that you are doing it to pay homage or show reverence IS wrapped into the definition this time. It’s not JUST bowing, as if you may be just tying your shoe.

Another word for worship, used only 6 times is the Greek Sebomai meaning to revere, to worship.
This time, no physical action is being described.

“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:9)

And finally, Paul uses the Greek word Latreuo in about 3 places where it gets translated to mean worship in English. Most of the time, the word gets translated as “service”. This one is by far the most descriptive and the closest to what we think of as religious worship or litergy. Example:

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philipians 3:3)

The definition is:

1. to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen
2. in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship
3. to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship
4. of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office

I think this word must have been used (not in the Bible) to talk about worshipping other gods. It’s the OT that has all the complicated temple rituals, sacrifices, offerings and rites. The NT doesn’t have any priests. There are rites such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that I guess could be included in here.

My conclusion? I’ve been to a lot of churches that claim their worship is “biblical”. OK, so maybe what they are doing is. That’s great. One thing I take away from this word study though is this: If you’re worship doesn’t SOMEHOW include physically bowing down, then I don’t think you can argue that it’s all that “biblical”.

The high church liturgies often involve kneeling down during certain prayers, etc. Cool. Pentecostals often kneel down and even lay on their faces. Maybe that doesn’t float your boat, but there is a TON of biblical support (in both the old and new testaments) for doing just that! I grew up in a Baptist church and had never bowed or knelt in worship until I came to college and saw other people doing it at a charismatic gathering.

I’m curious of how the word worship has evolved over the years from meaning ONLY bowing down to the fairly broad concept where bowing down is an optional activity that comes several bullet points after “singing”. I think the word “praise” (which I’ve completely skipped over up until this point) must be wrapped up in all of this too.

Conclusion for today: Bowing down before God is a physical action we can do that is most certainly worship to him. Let’s do it, eh?

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On Television

From Blue Like Jazz:

When you are a writer and a speaker, you aren’t supposed to watch television. It’s shallow. I feel guilty because for a long time I didn’t allow myself a television, and I used to drop that fact in conversation to impress people. I thought it made me sound dignified. A couple of years ago, however, I visited a church in the suburbs, and there was this blowhard preacher talking about how television rots your brain. He said that when we are watching television our minds are working no harder than when we are sleeping. I thought that sounded heavenly. I bought one that afternoon. (p.15)

I think I’m beginning to warm up to this perspective on television. TV was not really permitted when I grew up. I got to occasionally snag an episode of Duck Tales and if I was allowed to stay up, Star Trek: TNG. I used to love going to Grandma’s house. It was there I discovered Law and Order reruns on A&E. In college I watched absolutely nothing.

My wife and I have always owned a TV, but the only channel we get is PBS. This past year though, we have started watching Survivor online. I had never seen it before then. I was surprised to find that I enjoy it a lot. It’s especially nice being able to watch the episodes at any time with virtually no commercials on the CBS website. The current season is over, so now we have switched to it’s summer replacement, Pirate Master. The idea is really fun, but it just doesn’t work quite right. The cast has a high concentration of oddballs, the challenges are (so far) all the same, and there are no sea battles or sword play! There is however a real ship, sailing, treasure hunting, and rum. I want to see what happens, but unless it improves I doubt it will ever get past its maiden voyage.

Defining Worship (Part 2): Dictionaries, love, and action.

It is curious to look at what professional lexicographers have to say about worship, without necessarily attaching things to their own tradition.

From the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2006) via

1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
2. formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage: They attended worship this morning.
3. adoring reverence or regard: excessive worship of business success.
4. the object of adoring reverence or regard.
6. to render religious reverence and homage to.
7. to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).

I think it is interesting here is #7. Feelings of adoration, but not necessarily tied to action. The others deal more with the external object. You revere God and SO you do something like proclaim it or participate in a formal ceremony honoring him. So, are you really worshipping if there is not visible outward action? If I love coffee, but never drink any, do I still love it? Well, I think the answer is yes. However, when you try to apply this same idea to religious works, things can get a bit sticky. If you love Jesus, but don’t turn from your sin and call him Lord, do you really love him? Our salvation is by grace alone, (HIS work), but it also implies action on our part (repentance). Theologians can bat this around the park all day. I think I’ll go get a hot dog.

Back to worship. How much is our worship to the Lord an outside action – something physical and tangible like the song we are singing, the candle we are burning, the the sacrifice on the altar, the bending of our knees? How much of it is what goes on inside us – our hearts loving, our emotions captured, our minds meditating on? One could say that they are just two components of worship: the internal and external. That’s pretty straight forward. Or you could say that what goes on inside is the source and it overflows as action with our bodies. So if you sing a worship song, but don’t “mean it” inside, is it really worship? I think most people would say no. (I say no too.) So if you don’t give a rip about Jesus, but go through the motions of a worship service, does this please God? I really doubt it. What if you feel love for God on the outside, but you never do anything (formal or informal) to render praise in a way that another human being would recognize? Probably not worship either. You could say, “Well, that is pointless, since if it was really in the heart, then it MUST come out somehow. Even if just a little bit. So there is not worship that is JUST inside.” I think I’ll say that too.

I would just like to add, that we should be careful to judge how worshipful someone is by looking on the outside. That’s what WE see, but the Lord looks at the heart. Someone may seem on the outside to not be worshipping very much or in a very potent way, maybe just kneeling in prayer. Another may be making quite an elaborate show, maybe singing and dancing and shouting or leading an elaborate ceremony with candles, robes, incense, and sophisticated music. Both may be worshiping with lots of energy and God may be pleased to receive it. But the Lord looks at the heart.

I like how the American Heritage dictionary brings “love” into the mix:

1. The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
2. The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.

So here, it is first the source, or feeling and then number 2 is the outward action. I think this definition is a lot more useful than the first one I looked at.

The Princeton dictionary (via WordNet) has a distinctly non-Christian feel to it:

1. the activity of worshipping
2. a feeling of profound love and admiration

1. love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; “Many teenagers idolized the Beatles” [syn: idolize]
2. show devotion to (a deity); “Many Hindus worship Shiva”
3. attend religious services; “They worship in the traditional manner”

Why is this a non-Christian definition? It’s not just that Shiva is given as an example. Whatever. Look a little closer. The activity comes first. The metaphysical is given as secondary. Notice how in the verb it is simply “attending” worship services. All you have to do is show up. Finally, the first example of the verb given implies that when worshipping, you don’t question what you are doing, have not thought critically about it, and are doing it in excess. So a rock-band doesn’t deserve this kind of devotion, but I believe the author of this entry doesn’t think any god deserves it either.

For the flip side, let’s take a look at the classic Webster’s 1828:

4. Chiefly and eminently, the act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; or the reverence and homage paid to him in religious exercises, consisting in adoration, confession, prayer, thanksgiving and the like.
(The worship of God is an eminent part of religion. Prayer is a chief part of religious worship.)
5. The homage paid to idols or false gods by pagans; as the worship or Isis.
6. Honor; respect; civil deference.
(Then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. Luke 14.)
7. Idolatry of lovers; obsequious or submissive respect.verb
1. To adore; to pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration. (Thou shalt worship no other God. Exodus 34.)
2. To respect; to honor; to treat with civil reverence.
3. To honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover.

Webster spends the first three sections (not shown) on the archaic definitions that we don’t use anymore (meaning worthiness, or the title of a certain British magistrate). Then he jumps into the actions, even giving specific examples. He ties outside worship to being a key component of religion. He also contrasts it with worship paid to things that don’t deserve it (idols and human lovers). In the verb though, I don’t think he is qualifying the love component. The love can be towards God too, but he would have thought “reverence” was a better word for what we feel toward Jesus. I like this one a lot!

I’m sure this could be explored a little more, but that’s all I have time for today.

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Religious robot men

From Blue Like Jazz:

I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God. I was into habit. I grew up going to church, so I got used to hearing about God.

What is this a description of? Auto-pilot. The bane of my existence, and a special gift to our gender. Powerful, it enables us to function without thinking. To handle repetition that would otherwise drive us insane. To continue to function in the midst of noise and chaos. We really can be robots! It’s not bad. It’s a glorious work of the creator! But it’s another thing the deceiver aims to twist.

Nothing hurts my marriage more than this very thing. I think falling into auto-pilot in relation to our wives is a great snare for men. I believe Donald Miller also successfully points out that it’s a trap in our relation to God. The gender of men in particular is really good at being religious. Once we get our auto-pilot setup, we can go on for years while putting all of our creative energy into something else. Woman are not as successful at just being religious. It forces them to continue to strive for a more intimate relationship with Jesus, and that is a very good thing.

Intellectual Christianity can be rich in truth, but it’s easier for men to set it on auto-pilot. Mystical Christianity doesn’t play so well with robots. It keeps you on your toes.

Allow me to exhort myself:

Men, let’s shed the robot and engage God and our wives with all our mind, soul and strength!

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Defining Worship (Part 1): How large is the box?

I drew this picture a while back when you couldn’t go to an evangelical church service without hearing someone trying to cover Matt Redman or Delirious. Come to think of it, maybe you still can’t. Now I like that stuff just fine, but I couldn’t help but think about how it’s just a drop in an ocean of music. I’ve spoken with young Christians who have actually had no exposure to any other kind of worship service. Whoa. When I look at the patterns of worship in the Old Testament, I don’t even see a whole lot of music. Worship must be much larger than that!

On the other hand, you can’t make worship TOO large or it loses all of its meaning. I’ve heard some people say that our whole lives should be a worship unto the Lord. Well, sure, I agree with that, but the word is now of no use anymore. Standing and singing a hymn of adoration to Jesus has GOT to be more worshipful than eating my breakfast cereal in the morning or the word has no potency.

So how large is the box above? What about the relative size of the music circle? This is one angle I hope to explore. I think I’m safe in saying that the little blue blip is the right size though! Now crank up that Vineyard-covering-Redman-covering-Martin Smith on “Did you feel the mountains tremble?” and get back to work!

Life itself has walked in our midst…now what?

In the introduction to For All God’s Worth, N.T. Wright describes the incarnation (Jesus) this way:

How can you cope with the end of a world and the beginning of another one? How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube, or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting.

I think this is wonderful imagery! My former pastor, Karl Barden, put a practical spin on it:

If Christianity is anything, it is everything!

If you didn’t catch that, I’ll rephrase it: If Christianity is anything, anything at all, then it must be everything! Service to Jesus should absolutely dominate your life. I think both of these are another angle of the well-known challenge from C.S. Lewis:

I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I am ready to accept Jesus as the great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a boiled egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

So what do we do about this?! Lewis reveals his answer along with the question:

…fall at His feet and call Him (Jesus) Lord and God.

Bishop Wright goes on to prescribe:

…sheer unadulterated worship of the living and true God, and by following this God wherever he leads, whether or not it is the way our traditions would suggest. Worship is not an optional extra for the Christian, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance, and indeed…the truly human stance. “Worship” derives from “worth-ship”: it means giving God all he’s worth.

And Barden went on to put in 30 hard years of pastoring a congregation whose mission statement began with:

Lift up the Lord Jesus Christ in worship.

I think all of this is a wonderful place to start! The obvious next question to ask is “What is worship?” or “Can you tell or show me what it looks like?” From there we jump from our high position into a sea of confusion. I really want to come up with a working definition of “worship” over the next month. I think I’ll make it a series on this blog. I’ve had it explained to me many times, and each time, something quite different from the previous definition was being described. I want to work through all of this and come up with something more solid. Maybe it will be a long definition with 20 variations. Maybe it will be really short.

The purpose? Intellectual exercise? No. I want to worship Jesus! I want to do it right. I don’t want to miss something important. I want to teach my children how, and I’m not exactly sure what it looks like.

You can’t get there from here

One of my favorite pop songs has always been Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden. I’ve always really loved that song, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

She’ll let you in her house
If you come knockin’ late at night
She’ll let you in her mouth
If the words you say are right
If you pay the price
She’ll let you deep inside
But there’s a secret garden she hides.She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away

John Eldridge comments in Wild at Heart:

It’s a deep lie wedded to a deep truth. Eve IS a garden of delight (Song 4:16). But she’s not everything you want, everything you need-not even close. Of course it will stay a million miles away. You can’t get there from here because it’s not there. It’s not there.

Oddly enough, that turned out to be the most meaningful passage in the whole book for me. I think he hit the nail on the head. It’s once again our longing for God being replaced by the woman. That will never work. I hadn’t thought of the “secret garden” being sex, and I still don’t think it necessarily is. It’s just one of many things wrapped up in the desire for union.

In defense of cathedrals

Growing up, Cathedrals were always presented to me as being a huge wastes of money and energy. Nothing but monuments too Roman Catholic excess. Much better were our utilitarian Baptist house of worship (which apparently strived to be the most boring structure in town.) I remember being filled with awe when I first visited the National Cathederal in D.C. I remember clearly the beautiful moon window. The first thought that came to my mind was how amazing God was, not how amazing man was for building the thing. N.T. Wright, who served as the Anglican Bishop at Lichfield Cathedral in England for a time, argues for their existence in his book on worship:

From For All God’s Worth
(p. 14)

The true God is the one who became human and died and rose again in order to offer a new way of being human, a way of worship and love. Christ died, says Paul, so that we might embody the saving faithfulness of God: “It is all God’s work.”Now if that isn’t true, a building like a cathedral is simply an expensive monument to an impossible dream; and all we do in it is simply an elaborate way of turning over in bed, the better to continue the dream rather than wake up and face reality. But if it is true-if it really is the case that the true God is the one whose love overwhelms us in Jesus Christ-then the appropriate response is celebration, because this God is the reconciler, the healer. Celebration and healing: that is what a cathedral is all about.

…So it isn’t surprising that those who are grasped by this gospel have built cathedrals. People who have forgotten who God is produce concrete jungles and cardboard cities. People who remember or rediscover who God is build cathedrals to his glory, and homes where the poor are cared for.

Always a frontier

I’ve been reading The Nautical Chart, a mystery novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte (translated from the Spanish). It’s difficult to like the main character because he is such a loser. Nonetheless, I really identified with this sentiment:

Coy let himself sail with the ship for a moment, lost in a daydream of a long chase at the first light of dawn, of fleeing sails on the horizon. When there was no such thing as radar or satellites or sonar, ships were little dice cups dancing at the mouth of hell, and the sea was a mortal peril, but also an unassailable refuge from all things-lives lived or yet to be lived, deaths looming or already accomplished, but all of it left behind on land. “We come too late to a world too old,” he had read in some book. Of course we come too late. We come to ships and ports and seas that are too old, when dying dolphins peel away from the bows of ships, and when Conrad has written The shadow-Line twenty times, Long John Silver is a brand of whiskey, and Moby Dick has become the good whale in an animated film.

There’s a reason Gene Roddenbery says space is the final frontier. We’ve run out of them here. There is no hidden city left to discover in the Congo. There are no pirate ships hiding in the mists. GPS and satellite imagery have laid the smack-down on adventure. I think we must turn to other mysteries and frontiers: To mapping the human genome, to sub-atomic particles and cold fusion, to artificial intelligence, and of course, to interstellar travel. There will ALWAYS be a space program somewhere. Even if it never accomplishes anything substantial. The sons of Adam have a calling to understand and dominate their world.

(OK, apparently there isn’t a whiskey named after THAT particular pirate. So we’ll grab a different one instead!)

Genius without credentials

I’ve just started ready The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In the intro to the edition I have, editor Louis B. Wright goes on a rant about the historians who like to insist that Shakespeare couldn’t possible have written so many good plays; that he must have stolen other people’s material:

Most anti-Shakespeareans are naive and betray and obvious snobbery. The author of their favorite plays, they imply, must have had a college diploma framed and hung on his study wall like the one in their dentist’s office, and obviously so great a writer must have had a title or some equally significant evidence of exalted social background. They forget that genius has a way of cropping up in unexpected places and that none of the great creative writers of the world got his inspiration in a college or university course.

Living and working an academia for the past seven years, I’ve certainly seen the “my vita is longer than yours” contest and the “my degree is from a more prestigious institution than yours” game played pretty regularly. It’s funny though, Dan Bukvich, the professor in our music department with by far the most creative output and renown for pedagogical excellence only has a Master’s from a place nobody has heard of. Einstein didn’t have a degree worth mentioning at all, just enough to get his foot in the door as a bookkeeper while he pondered physics at night. I didn’t realize Shakespeare was another example of this.

I think I like stories like this because they fly in the face of snobbery. I think deep down I wish I WAS in the snob class with a degree from Juliard or MIT, working a “respectable” post. But I don’t have those things and never will. I wasn’t born into enough money. Stories like this give me hope that I can “be somebody” even though I haven’t been seemingly dealt the best hand. Now, all of this may be just trying to stoke up my own pride when I should just accept being humbled, but I think there is more to it than that. I want to “be somebody” just as much as the next guy. The drive for excellence is implanted in many of us. It can be twisted toward the ego, but I think the Lord put it there in the first place.