Tag Archive for worship

Sincerity and Profanity

Many pastors and Christian leaders believe they are purifying Christianity and worship when they remove any kind of formality from corporate worship. Formal dress, an exalted tone in prayer, or reverent music are eschewed for a more casual and informal approach. They appear to believe that retaining forms that are not immediately recognisable or penetrable by the average Christian represents an attempt to “appear religious”. To them, this is hollow priestcraft and chicanery. In fact, the term hocus pocus grew out of the medieval peasant’s presence at the Mass, where he would hear the priest say “this is the body of Christ” in Latin: hoc est corpus Christi. At some point, the hoc est corpus got mangled into hocus pocus. How bread became God was a kind of magic, impenetrable to the average peasant. Many modern Christian leaders believe divesting Christianity of formality will purify it of hocus pocus, and make it more sincere, authentic, and real. But this profoundly misunderstands the difference between the profane and the sacred.

Since Cain and Abel, man has understood that when something is performed, offered or used in an act of worship, that thing is set apart for that purpose. It is sacred. It is not always intrinsically so; it becomes sacred because it is so dedicated. It is sacred in purpose, not in makeup. This applies to animals, altars, human bodies, clothing, spaces, music, speech, times, even whole days or weeks or entire buildings. This is the act of consecration: setting things apart for holy uses. Once a common thing or place or time is set apart for worship, it is considered sacred.

The Mosaic Law made this point in hundreds of ways. Ordinary animals, utensils, tents, clothes would be consecrated and re-consecrated through sacrifices and ritual cleansings. When something was not consecrated or ritually cleansed, it was not to be used in worship, with dire penalties for disobedience. God kept explaining that by these acts of separating the ordinary from the sacred, Israel would be taught that God is holy: “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (Lev. 10:10). God is other. And because He is other, He is not known or worshipped by what is purely familiar or common. Even in pagan worship, common things, such as shoes were to be left in front of the temple (Latin= pro fanum), not brought inside it. To bring the unconsecrated into a sacred space was to profane that space, and indeed, that god. To obliterate this distinction between what was specifically given for worship, and what was for use in ordinary life was an act of profaning the name of the Lord. To profane God is to drag God and His worship down to the level of the ordinary.

No one, in all these millennia, misunderstood the nature of sacred things. They knew that the wood of the altar is still wood. They knew that anointing oil is still oil, and that the Sabbath is another twenty-four hours like all others. They did not waste time pointing out that priestly linen was the same material as regular linen. Nevertheless, they knew that what was consecrated had changed in its purpose, and since that purpose was now sacred, the objects or space or time were to be considered such.

Although the New Testament church is no longer restricted to a Tabernacle or Temple, and although it is true that all of our lives are to be offered up as worship, this does not mean that we by this fact lose the distinction between the sacred and the profane, particularly regarding corporate worship. Romans 12:1 is not meant to profane worship; it is meant to consecrate the mundane. The Lord’s Day is still His day. Ministers still ought to dress as if they were handling the most serious message in the world. Christians still ought to dress as if they were going to appear before God. Prayer still ought to be speech set apart to speak to the Most High. The Bible still ought to be read and heard like no other book. The space we meet in still ought to be treated like a space given over to worship. In various ways, we New Testament believers still ought to show that what we set apart for worship has a consecrated purpose, and therefore we should treat it as sacred, and not as common.

However, the realness police do not understand this. They rightly recognise that all of life is sacred, but then they take this to mean that the difference between worship and life is precisely what they should eliminate. They must make worship seem as ‘real’ or familiar as driving, eating, or walking through the mall. That way, they reason, no pretense exists in worship.

But in fact, such people turn out to be destroyers. Their efforts do not elevate normal life to a state of consecration; instead, they debase everything. Instead of a deep sense of reality permeating worship, they end up with a profound sense of mundaneness in corporate worship. Instead of filling the Christian church with sincerity, they fill it with what is average. Life does not become elevated and consecrated; worship becomes predictable, everyday and ordinary. Awe and reverence is lost, and the small consolation is that “we’re all so real about it.” Like Titus, they tear away the veil, and find nothing is there, and feel satisfied that at least they’d removed the mask.

The very contrast between worship and everyday life is exactly what invests worship with its power and transformative force. The gap between the common and the sacred is what makes worship a numinous and spiritual experience. The sacredness of worship is precisely what engenders the fear of the Lord. When we tear away at form – those things and ways and acts that remind us that this occasion is sacred – we tear away at worship itself. Indeed, we tear away at our own dignity as being made in the image of God, and not mere animals concerned with the material. When we refuse the distinction between the sacred and the common, we are nothing more than what C.S. Lewis called trousered apes.

Do not despise consecration. Do not attribute the setting apart of worship as a sacred experience as a bunch of sham and pretence. Learn to embrace such consecration yourself. Recognise it is part of the way God teaches us that He Himself is holy.

Adoration and Amusement

A great king had two sons, who were come to the age where one should be named as the crown prince. The custom of that country was that the king would choose his heir directly, without weight given to birth-order. He was hard-pressed at the choice, for they both loved him and had noble and kingly traits. He decided to test them. Whichever son pleased him most in the test would become the crown prince. He summoned his two sons to his throne room.

“My sons, you are both fine sons, more pleasing to me than all the wealth and splendour of my kingdom. I am torn at the thought of choosing but one of you to rule in my stead, but the tradition of our country knows nothing of two kings ruling on the throne. One of you must rule; indeed, one of you must rule over the other.”

His sons stirred, but did not glance at one another.

“I have chosen to put your kingliness to the test. I will judge the winner according to my own counsel, and there shall be no debate entertained. As I could crown one of you this moment without objection from the other, so I may judge the winner of my contest by my own wisdom.”

His sons nodded, their gazes still down, as was the law in that land for one in the presence of the king.

“The test is this: you will gather as much fame for my name in one year as you can. At the end of the year, your efforts will appear before me, and I will judge one of you to be king after me.”
The princes departed, wished each other luck, and immediately sought counsel from the wise men of the land.

The younger prince consulted with the old men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved greatly. Bring him some people who love him deeply and truly, however many or few, and you will be judged the wiser son.

The older prince consulted with the young men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved widely, for he is a great king, and greatly to be praised. Bring him throngs of people, by whatever means, and you will truly have brought him the fame he seeks.”

The younger prince travelled amongst the people, staying in one town for weeks at a time. There he taught the people patiently, every day explaining the glory of his father’s wars, his mercy with his enemies, his justice in ruling, and his kindness as a father. Some were taken by the descriptions of his father. Many were indifferent, and the young prince’s heart often grew discouraged. Often he felt like he was trying to kindle a fire in green wood. What would he have to show for his work? A handful of obscure people who loved the king dearly? He at times questioned the counsel he had been given. Nevertheless, he persevered.

The older prince travelled amongst the people, setting up fairs and stage-plays, tournaments and circuses, contests and puppet-shows in the name of his father. He knew how much people loved these things, and knew that they would be drawn to them. His thinking was logical: once the happy crowds found out that such were provided by the king, they would love him as well. He was not disappointed. Crowds gathered wherever he went. People thronged his demonstrations, and enthusiastically accepted his invitation to appear at the castle on the day of the king’s judgement. Occasionally, he would question the sincerity of those who followed in his train and eagerly awaited the next amusement. However, he dismissed such doubts, certain that it was better to present a large crowd of king-lovers than a thin one, even if a few were there for the wrong reasons.

On the day of judgement, the older prince filled the castle’s courtyard with hundreds of cheering people, with many others outside the walls. When the king appeared from the royal balcony, the crowd exploded in praise, and the younger prince sensed he had lost the contest.

The king proceeded to give an oration, climaxing with the promise that his subjects could forthwith have direct audiences with him in the throne-room upon request. The crowd seemed unimpressed. No applause was offered, and a silence settled over the courtyard. Here and there a shout echoed, calling for more jousting tournaments, cock-fighting and banquets. The shouts turned into disgruntled jeering. The crowd was now angry and hostile. The king ordered his soldiers to dismiss the crowd from his castle.

The king retired to his throne-room and sat down. The younger prince came in, bringing with him a small and strange group of unimpressive peasants: a little child, a blind beggar, a woman of the night, a leper, a cleric, a widow, an orphan and a soldier. They had been weeping during the king’s speech, and now prostrated themselves before him, along with the younger prince. The king rose, called for a meal to be set out for this group, and lifted up each one by his own hand. He led them to the banqueting table and served each one himself.

Which of the two sons did the will of his father?