Friday, June 1, 2012

Yes, but Does He Want It?

In a previous post, I related how Arnobius of Sicca, in The Case Against the Pagans, took task with pagans for their worship innovations by pointing out the logical inconsistencies of introducing new elements without explicit guidance from a divine being.  He continued by asking what benefit the deity gains in the use of new items.
Finally,… we ask for what cause, for what reason, that incense is put on the altars before the very images of the deities, and that, from its being burned, they are supposed to become friendly and gentle.  What do they acquire from this being done, or what reaches their minds, so that we should be right in judging that these things are rightly expended and are not consumed uselessly and in vain?  For as you should show why you give incense to the gods, so, too, it follows that you should demonstrate that the gods have some reason for not rejecting it with disdain, nay more, for desiring it so fondly.  (VII.27)
In other words, why do it?  What does a deity gain in this practice?  How do you know it is not done in vain?  These questions, along with those in my previous post, are important to ask for tweaks, adjustments, or novelties brought into an assembly's worship.  What are the  reasons given both for why something is added and why God would willingly and graciously receive it?  If both questions cannot be reasonably and rationally answered, the practice should not be implemented.
"We honor the gods with this," some one will perhaps say.  (VII.27)
Thus proving Solomon correct: there is nothing new under the sun.  Nowadays, this is stated as, "We just want to worship the Lord," or something similar.  Inexplicably, good intentions are to hold sway over clear teaching and practice.  King David had good intentions as well, but it cost the life of an innocent man (2 Sam 6:2-7).  If desire of the heart is the standard for worship, Nadab and Abihu would have lived out their years (Lev 10:1-2) and King Saul been blessed of the Lord (1 Sam 15:20-26).  In God's eyes, obedience trumps desire.
But we are not inquiring what your feeling is, but the gods’; nor do we ask what is done by you, but how much they value what is done to purchase their favor.  (VII.27)
The worshiper's intent is of no consequence.  What does a god (or especially the only true God) think of the invention?  Since there is nothing to go by, how can one be sure of offering the proper thing in the proper way?  Am I the final standard for what is pleasing?  Is any person?  What is pleasant to me may be utterly distasteful to God.  How do I know without his clear teaching?  Without clear direction, innovation can quickly become absurd.  Liturgical dance has been introduced in some circles during their worship time in an effort to be expressive through the arts.  Do we also allow pole dancing?  That seems absurd, but there is no logical reason not to go that direction now that the entire medium has been broached.  Worship has become individualistic and self-centered.

The next time someone wants to introduce something new or trendy ask, "Who is this for—the worshiper or the worshiped?"  Is it to express myself as an individual, make a name for ourselves as a group, or does the Lord ask for something we have overlooked before now?  It's the last one that means anything at all.

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