On Christian Worship

February 28, 2018

Bread and WineThere is a philosophy I have noted over the 30-plus years I have been a Christian that we can separate the world into the two categories of sacred and secular (Durkheim actually called it the sacred and profane).  I took a course on Durkheim and other thinkers (including Marx, Hegel, Des Cartes, Hume, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, and others) in first year university.  The idea of the separation between sacred and secular that Durkheim posited seems to have been adopted by much of our Western civilization.  One could perhaps see it in the division between so-called “church” and “state” in America from the very beginning, up to the current tax-exempt status that religious organizations enjoy today.  However, does this dichotomy truly exist?  If so, it is a most troubling one, because many things I would naturally class as secular may indeed be used in sacred service to God.  Contrarily, it is possible to profane the sacred items of Christian worship in a number of ways, which include spiritual idolatry (fear of the wrong God), the blending of religious worship from other faiths to that which is Christian (eating meat sacrificed to idols if you want a scripture reference), works-based justification before God, and the like.  In a contradiction of Durkheim and followers, I suggest that the Christian should live their whole life in worship of our creator and deliverer, and like so many other things, Christ has healed this seemingly natural division of sacred and secular by making it all holy through His work at Calvary (my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek when I refer to Ephesians 2:14, by the way).

I will begin my reasoning in Acts chapter 10, where Peter was given a vision.  I will pick up the text in verse 14:  “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  Peter was familiar with this natural division of things that were clean (sacred, used for worship of God) and things that were not.  His Jewish concept of the sacred and secular was that even just a touch from the secular would profane the sacred.  He had no wish to become defiled by that which was not holy.  And yet God answered in verse 15, “Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.””  This is not to say that God made all things clean, but that God sets what is sacred and not us.  But what does God set as holy in the New Testament?  Paul told Timothy in his first letter (1 Tim. 4:4-5), “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”  What has occurred here is what Peter would have considered a paradigm shift in thinking.  It is no longer the secular that profanes the holy, but now rather the holy that sanctifies the secular and profane.  My uncle Clayton, at the time an ordained minister, prayed a blessing over “fertilizer” on the farm.  I’m not sure if you would know this, but our cows made that “fertilizer” by eating grass, and we cleaned it out of the barn when they were finished with it and threw it in a pile to compost.  We even sold some of it.  (I debated including this, but I think it makes the point.)  Farmers are blessed when their crops grow and literally bear much fruit.  Fertilizer, therefore, to a farmer is holy – especially when sanctified by prayer and the Word I suppose.  I chose that example because it is literally the most foul thing I can think of (I used to clean that barn), and yet in the right context, people are thankful for it, and even pray over it.  This is an extreme case of what Paul meant.  (In context, Paul was talking about the devilish doctrines of false teachers that would come later that would forbid certain foods, and would forbid marriage as not being holy before God.)

Worship may be defined as our response to our Almighty Creator and Redeemer for what He has done for us, and for who He is (King of the Universe).  It is not simply music, or prayer, or reading the Bible, or fellowshipping with the saints, as great as those things are (Acts 2:42).  Every act we perform, every word we speak, and even every thought we think should be to the praise and glory of our heavenly Father.  Paul tells us in Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”  Our very selves are to be a living offering, a sacrifice – that is, something we give up to God completely – and Paul calls this our “spiritual service of worship.”  If I were to deconstruct the Greek here a bit, we could translate this as your “logical [or reasonable] divine worship [logikeen latreian hemown].”  Everything we do should somehow reflect not only what God has done for us through His Son’s death and resurrection (and subsequent indwelling by His Holy Spirit), but who He is, which is the whole reason for sanctification of US, as His servants – so that we may reflect Him, not as in a mirror darkly, but as we grow in Christ and the knowledge of Him, more fully, to show His grace in our lives and perhaps attract those who will respond also to His grace.

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