Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Giving Honor According to My Terms

In two recent posts on worship I addressed questions that should be asked if innovations are being introduced, and then asking if God would even want them at all.  If a person or group would start making noise about appropriate worship practice for God's people, opposition will inevitably be voiced along these lines:
Look, you are insulting us without a reason.  We're not bringing in new worship practices because God needs them to continue or is overtly gladdened by their use.  We do this because he is worthy of the honor.  To illustrate and exalt his eminence, we add to worship, showing our reverence.
Does this or something similar sound familiar?  The argument is actually centuries old.  The quote is another paraphrase from Arnobius of Sicca against pagan worshipers (VII.30) as he argues against their use of incense and wine.  As in the last post, intent becomes the final criterion, but now there is an additional appeal to a spiritual truth: the object of worship is due all honor.  This is correct, but the worshiper does not determine the measure of appropriateness reflects his or her alleged reverential behavior.  There are at least four errors with this argument.

1st.  The subjective nature is designed to allow any new forms or elements deemed acceptable by the creator and whomever makes the final decision for use.  Those things so implemented eventually become sacred cows: nobody remembers the reason or purpose, but removal is anathema.  They last because "we've always done it that way."

2nd.  Arnobius brings forward the following:
And what greater insult can be inflicted upon the gods than if you believe that they become propitious on receiving wine, or, if you suppose that great honor is done to them, if you only throw and drop on the live coals a few drops of wine?… For you do what you see to be done, not that which you are assured should be done, inasmuch as with you a custom without reason prevails, more than a perception of the nature of circumstances based on a careful examination of the truth.  (VII.30)
Worshipers insult the object of devotion by believing an additional bit of innovation or previously unused sacrificial act will make a difference.  And that which was previously introduced is being continued without rationale, though they are intelligent individuals.  How much like many assemblies today where members follow the leadership or teachers without testing what is being asked against scripture.

3rd.  Worship is changed to fit individual desire, so that the object of worship is a god made in the image of the worshiper.  This deity is then purported to set the parameters for proper worship, coincidentally aligning perfectly with how the worshiper is thinking and feeling at the time.  Further more, the parameters are foisted on all worshipers under the guise of honor and reverence, implemented individually according to personal taste.  The group becomes an amalgam of idolators, each worshiping his own deity.

4th.  The type and degree of offerings and service are to personal taste.  Arnobius relates that pagans would customarily make supplication with, "Be honored by this humble wine offered."  He goes on to ask:
What kind of honor, then, is this, in which there is imposed on the deity a condition, as it were, not to ask more than has been given?  Or what is the greed of the god, who, if he were not verbally interdicted, would extend his desires too far, and rob his suppliant of his stores?… This is a wrong, not an honor.  For what if the deity shall wish for more, and shall not be content with what is brought!  Must he not be said to be especially insulted who is compelled to accept honor conditionally?… What is this but saying, "Be worshiped as much as I choose; receive as much dignity as I prescribe, as much honor as I decide and determine according to my word that you should have?" (VII.31)
How do we know when enough is enough?  Is it according to an arbitrary word?  No divine being is honored when the terms of worship are dictated this way.  The attempts are nothing more than the display of pride and overt disregard for what is prescribed as good and acceptable.  A god willing to accept such conditions is not worthy to be worshiped.

In assemblies around the world Christians regularly demonstrate their ignorance or disregard for right worship.  If the former is the true condition, good teaching will take care of matter: the fix is a proper teacher who rightly divides the word of God.  If the latter is the case, repentance by the elders is in order for leading people astray, along with sound teaching already mentioned.  The biblical doctrine of worship is quite large being intertwined with the fullness of who God is.  When we know God better, we worship better.  These things move along together.

Lastly, we can contrast and compare with scripture what has been done in the historical church in an effort to worship rightly.  What did the historical church enhance to keep focus on the Lord?  What did they diminish or squelch altogether as inappropriate?  What can be viewed as adiaphora? *  There is good information waiting to be mined.

* Latin for "indifferent," referring to elements of worship that can be kept or removed without affecting what is happening between God and his people as they gather together.

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