Defining Worship (Part 4): When the scripture is vague

I sat down in Ball and Cross Books the other day to look through their supply of Christian reference books. I probably could have done better at a library, but none of the libraries I know have really good coffee only 20 yards away. In this case, it’s via Bucer’s Coffeehouse Pub.

Anyway, first I picked up Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, to see what they had to say about worship.

Answer: Nothing!

Really. It wasn’t in there. It’s a very thick book with lots of bible words, but apparently he didn’t want to tackle this one. Hmmm.

William Wison in his Old Testament Word Studies comments:

…of the hebrew word, to fall down in worship, yet the meaning does not seem to be confined to the act of prostration, but to imply all profound adoration. (emphasis mine)

Right, it SEEMS to just about everyone to mean more than prostration, but you won’t find that in the text.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church has it hashed out a bit more.
From section 2135:

“You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises are vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.

So it’s the inside act/feeling of adoration, along with prayer in general, give him honor (not defined here), fulfilling vows (interesting), and a catch-all of “acts of the virtue of religion”, which I think would include giving to the poor, and even raising Godly children. This definition fits nicely with my “worship is a pretty big box” idea that I discussed in the first post. I like this definition a lot. It starts inside and works it’s way outside. All of it is worship, but maybe the first things on the list more so than the latter things.

Next I went to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. He briefly goes through the same word study I went through myself last week, coming to the same conclusions about how the word means to bow down. He does include this interesting note:

The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment. (emphasis mine)

Well no kidding it’s not defined! 66 books of religious law, history, and spiritual instruction and nowhere is a clear explanation of what worship to the one true God looks like. I think this is something some people don’t want to admit. When they read the bible, they see it describing the kind of worship they happen to already participate in. Our temptation is to fashion our interpretation of scripture into support for our own traditions. If we do that, all we have to do is mess with the words a bit and we’re doing it “right”! We don’t have to actually change what were are doing or rethink our actions. How convenient.

But what do you do when something really is vague in the bible? Since so many things in the Bible are so clearly addressed again and again, (such as sexual purity, money, and mercy), I think it really stands out that worship isn’t defined for us. I think God must have done that for a reason. Maybe he wants us to fill in the blanks with our own creativity and imagination. If he really wanted it a certain way, I think he would have communicated that to us. So maybe there is nothing wrong with your traditions and the way you’re doing it. Or maybe there is. I think there is value in examining the bible and asking, “Do we worship this way because somebody 500 years ago someone was trying to obey the bible and did it that way? Or are we worshipping this way because the youth pastor saw it on MTV last week?”

Some tradition that started out as a very good thing can be distorted over the years. Some things that may be new could be completely legitimate. Some things that may seem new might not actually be so new. (There is nothing new under the sun.) So scripture is vague about worship. Alright, so read what is there the best you can. Don’t neglect to examen history. Hundreds of generations of Christians before you can’t all be wrong. Examen your heart. Put the goal of honoring God in the forefront and make the best informed decision you can.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to worship AND continue to “be informed”. Until the next segment…

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